Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life, the new book by Eric Greitens, Rhodes Scholar and former Navy SEAL, is hardly a parenting guide. But, Greitens tells Yahoo Parenting, “As I shared the book with parents, including my own, they said, ‘This has a lot to do with how to raise a resilient child.’”
Resilience, Greitens says, is an essential quality for living a good life, and one that he hopes to instill in his son, now seven-months-old. Here’s how he plans to do it — and how you can too.
Be a role model
“Most people quit when they think about how hard [a particular task is],” says Greitens. “Parents can show kids that when times are difficult, they can still take action.” In other words, when parents are faced with a lost job, the death of a loved one, or divorce, they should focus on the things they can control, rather than the things they can’t. Then, Greitens says, “Kids begin to approach difficulty in the same way.”
Make yourself useful
“When someone feels they have something to offer, they build a sense of purpose and strength,” Greitens says. That sense of purpose helps both children and adults persevere in the face of obstacles, he says, because it shifts the focus from “how” they’re going to tackle a challenge to the “why” that drives them.
Research shows that people who list three things they’re thankful for each day are stronger and happier, Greitens says. “It helps you look at the world differently. It can be very easy to focus on things that are going wrong, but when you’re grateful, you start seeing positive things around you.”
This can be as simple as making young children responsible for putting away their own toys. “When you help kids take responsibility, you’re showing them that they’re in control of something,” Greitens says. “People who can do that are more resilient.”
Don’t help kids (too much)
“When kids are struggling with a math problem, ask them questions like, ‘How else might you attack this? How did you solve the last problem?’” Greitens suggests. “It helps them remember how they’ve been successful in the past. Their sense of achievement and the learning that happens when they solve the problem themselves is much greater.”
Let kids experience consequences
If a child wastes his or her allowance on candy or toys and doesn’t have enough left over for something they really want, resist the temptation to help out with extra cash. Instead, let them experience the natural consequence of disappointment, says Greitens. “If they know they can spend impulsively and they’ll immediately get five more dollars, they’re not learning.”
Allow for failure
“What happens too often is that we want every kid to have a trophy for everything they’ve done,” Greitens says. “The real victory might be if kids learn, ‘If I want to win, I have to practice harder.’ Or, ‘I have to work better with my teammates.’ When instead we give them a trophy, it says, ‘You don’t need any of those lessons.’”
Encourage risk taking
This doesn’t mean allowing kids to do things that are unsafe. Think jumping off the diving board for the first time, not diving headfirst into the shallow end of the pool.
Setting limits can actually encourage appropriate risk taking because it lets kids know that someone is keeping them safe. “Children don’t get to choose to ride in a car without seat belts,” Greitens says. “On certain matters there can be explanation, but no negotiation.”
Love your kids
This may be obvious, but it’s also all-important. “The world is hard, and kids are going to fail,” Greitens says. “They’re going to have difficulty, pain and hardship. But when they know that no matter what happens, they’re going to be loved when they come home, it allows them to approach the world with more confidence.”