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5 Ways to Raise a Resilient Child

Vanessa Flores

Setbacks are a inevitable part of growing up, but there are ways to ensure your child will have the strength they need to bounce back. When I ask students I work with about what they need from the adults in their lives in order to feel supported in times of struggle, they said: 

  • Someone who cares about me
  • Someone who listens to me

Take a moment and ask yourself, “Would my children say ‘yes’ to those two statements?” Trust is built in the smallest of moments. With children, it is all about small, consistent interactions that add up over time. 

Here is a list of 5 things you might be able to do, starting today, to help your children feel cared for and heard. 

1. Cultivate hope. 

In Brené Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she says that hope happens when

  • We have the ability to set realistic goals (I know where I want to go)
  • We are able to figure out how to achieve those goals, including the ability to stay flexible and develop alternative routes (I know how to get there, I'm persistent, and I can tolerate disappointment and try again). 
  • We believe in ourselves (I can do this!). 

A former researcher at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, C.R. Snyder goes on to say that children need relationships that are characterized by boundaries, consistency and support. The culture we live in today makes our children believe that things should be fun, fast and easy which is inconsistent with hopeful thinking. Brené says that we can help our children develop a hopeful mind-set when we help them understand that some worthy endeavors will be difficult and time consuming and not enjoyable at all. 

When we allow our children to fail and make mistakes without judgement, we build trust and make room for forgiveness of ourselves and each other. 

2. Make room for the "yucky stuff."

Sitting in pain with our child can sometimes be harder than feeling it. More often than not, our gut reaction is to want to fix it. We tell them to suck it up, don't cry and move on. "You'll get through it. We've all been there. It's a part of being a teenager." We'd rather push the feelings aside than sit in those dark moments with them. 

When we make room for the yucky stuff, connection happens. We teach our children that vulnerability is hard but it's okay. We teach them that we can talk about our feelings in a way that doesn't make us feel as though we're "weak". It is in those moments that they begin to hold the belief that they can do something that will help them to manage their feelings and cope. These are the moments that teach them about common humanity which is that you are in it together and even when the road gets bumpy and it seems like there's more dark than light, you are willing to ride the wave with them. 

3. Be their P.I.C. 

How many of you have a P.I.C.? Or shall I say, a Partner In Crime? Someone you can tell all your secrets to without a disclaimer. What about that person who will hold your stories sacred and never tell another soul? Now I know that there is a fine line between being your children's best friend and their parent. But, I do think it's possible to have the best of both worlds. 

Being your child's partner in crime means to stay connected. Here are some simple ways you can do that: 

  • Stop saying "I'm busy." 
  • Put down the technology! 
  • Make eye contact. 
  • Listen. 
  • Smile. 
  • Make time to do nothing. 
  • Take time to play with them. 
  • Give hugs. 

If you've ever asked yourself, "Why don't they just tell me what they're feeling?" Try getting connected first! 

4. Practice self-compassion 

Self-Compassion is the practice of talking to ourselves the way we would talk to someone we love. According to Dr. Kristin Neff, researcher and professor at the University of Texas at Austin, self-compassion has three elements: 

  1. Self-kindness: Being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. 
  2. Common humanity: Common humanity recognizes that suffering and feelings of personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience - something we all go through rather than something that happens to "me" alone. 
  3. Mindfulness: Taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. Mindfulness requires that we not "over-identify" with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negativity. 

Bottom line is that if we can practice loving ourselves, our children will follow. When we can learn to praise them in the good and bad moments, they will learn to be more kind to themselves the next time they make a mistake. So the next time your child comes to you and says, "I made a mistake, I accidentally said something about my teacher that wasn't very nice and she found out." Do you say, "What? Are you kidding me? That's unacceptable!" or do you say, "I've done something similar before--mistakes happen. You can apologize and make amends."   

5. Say "YES" more often 

In the Year of Yes, written by Shonda Rhimes, she shares a story about the moment she started saying yes to everything including her children. She describes a moment where she was getting ready to walk out the door in an elegant designer gown to some fancy event she had said yes to when her daughter runs up and says, "MAMA!! Wanna play?" Shonda says in her book that she felt like time froze. She knew she was late already but she immediately thought to herself, "If I'm not careful, she's going to see the back of my head heading out the door more than she'll see my face." In that moment she kicked off those painful heels, dropped her knees to the hardwood floor and said YES to play. 

If we don't make the time, they'll be gone before we know it. Just do it.

Say YES. I dare you! 

Wholeheartedly, 

Vanessa