How well does your child manage adversity, cope in difficult situations, and learn from disappointments? In other words, how resilient is she? We often think our job is to protect our children from tough situations, but in fact, our protection is only protecting us. We don't want to deal with their anger, sadness, and fear. In many cases, we were not allowed these feelings as children so we don't know how to manage our children's feelings. It's easier if they don't have them.
When we overly protect our children and try to make them happy, we inadvertently reduce their ability to cope with life's inevitable frustrations and situations beyond their control. Their problem solving muscles atrophy so their answer to "What do you think you can do about that?" becomes "I don't know."
Building resilience in children requires us to:
1. Trust our child's ability to cope.
2. Convey in words and body language confidence in their capacity to rebound from disappointment.
3. Allow, accept, and provide outlets for feelings of sadness, fear, anger, and disappointment.
4. Do not jump in to rescue them or fix problems without their engagement.
5. Balance our own wants and needs with theirs.
Children are so much more capable of dealing with and solving problems than we give them credit for. Our natural sense of nurturing and can easily switch to sacrificing and overprotection when we think we are responsible for their happiness.
We do not serve them by protecting them from disappointment or telling them they shouldn't feel what they are feeling. Let their tears flow; allow their meltdowns. You don't have to do or change anything. Simply acknowledge and empathize so they know they are heard and their feelings are normal.
Many situations are too intense for young children: a school environment that lays on too much pressure, a truth that is too much to handle, etc. But life inevitably throws us curve balls, and how well our children are able to get over them and move on depends on their resilience.
A schoolmate who taunts with a hurtful name, a desired toy you think inappropriate or unaffordable, a limit that feels unfair, an expected event that falls through all cause natural feelings. Expressing those feelings, problem-solving situations, making choices about how to handle them helps children make sense of their experience.
Resilience is a sign of strong connection and healthy attachment. In order to provide the 5 building blocks, we parents must:
· Know the difference between our problems and our child's problems.
· Allow our children to experience and solve their own problems.
· Help and support them but do not tell them what to do.
· Provide them with outlets for feelings and aggressive actions.
· Punching pillows, role playing, fantasies, objects to kick or jump on
· Have confidence in our own ability to cope with our children's feelings.
· Trust that we do not need to have the answers.
· Teach our children to problem solve.
Often parents ignore difficult situations not knowing what to do. You do not need to know the answer. It's actually best if you don't so you don't impose your way on your child. Once you accept and provide outlets for your child's natural feelings, guide him to find his own answers. You can make suggestions if he is stuck, but it's best to lead his own thinking with questions and curiosity. He is capable of finding answers you would never think of.
When we tell our children what to think, do and say, we risk creating their dependence on someone else to solve their problems.
Bonnie Harris, MS Ed, is the director of Connective Parenting. She is the author of When Your Kids Push Your Buttons (2003), and teaches Buttons parent workshops and professional trainings internationally. Her second book Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You'll Love to Live With was released in 2008. Bonnie is the mother of two grown children and lives with her husband in New Hampshire. For more information visit www.bonnieharris.com.