How to Raise Resilient Kids & Ease Anxiety
As adults, we like to romanticize childhood. We tell ourselves that it’s the one period of our existence that’s totally free of stress, worry, and anxiety. It’s a playful time. A joyful time. This may be our way of giving more weight and importance to the challenges that we’re currently facing as adults, but it’s false view of childhood that can be extremely harmful to our own kids.
As much as we like to think of childhood as an innocent and carefree, in reality, it isn’t exactly that. From tests to competitions, speaking in front of the class, losing your best friend, figuring out when to fit in and when to stand out….childhood has many of its own challenges and even some that we, as adults, are still trying to figure out.
It goes without saying that we shouldn’t downplay our children’s problems, no matter how nostalgic we feel about our own childhood. Nor should we sweep them under the rug with the notion that this is the happiest time in their lives, and nothing could be all that serious. Worse yet, we shouldn’t try to fix their problems either.
Our children will benefit more if we give them the tools they need to problem-solve so that they can face each new challenge that comes their way with the mindset that good solutions are possible.
But teaching our kids to be resilient is easier said than done. After all, as parents, we’re wired to anticipate potential problems, hazards, and risks, quashing them before they have the chance to do any real harm. We see ourselves as protectors and nurturers, responsible for the safety and well-being of our children. We cultivate a preventative outlook. So it’s natural that we want to be ten steps ahead of any issues our kids might run into, or to solve the ones that we didn’t see coming.
We have to remember: We’re not raising kids. That is to say, they won’t be kids forever. We’re raising children who will one day become adults. Learning resiliency – in baby steps now – will help them immensely throughout their lives.
Here are some tips for raising resilient kids with the confidence to face life’s challenges:
Remove Your Ego From Your Parenting
Ok, that sounds harsh. But the fact is that as parents, we identify so much with our children – so much so that we tend to look to them as a barometer of our own self-worth. We tie up our egos in our parenting and it becomes more about us, less about our kids.
Society tells us that this is the one thing that we have to get right and yet, no one really knows what “right” is. You can either fail or succeed at this parenting thing. It’s all or nothing. And you will be judged every step of the way.
But if we work on separating our own egos from our parenting decisions, we can take a huge step towards shifting the focus from us and what serves us best, to what serves our kids best.
Model Resiliency and Acknowledge Mistakes
Our children learn more from what we do than what we say. Our actions and our behavior matter, especially when the going gets rough. It’s important to model resiliency when we face our own challenges. Try to stay calm and consistent, and control big emotions. Problem solve out loud so that your child can follow your thought process to finding a solution for the problem at hand.
Additionally, acknowledge your own mistakes when you make them. This doesn’t mean beat yourself about them, shed tears, or get dramatic. It means owning up to your mistakes in a calm and collected way that opens up a discussion. “I handled that poorly and I regret it. What do you think I should have done differently?” will show your kids how to be resilient and how to take steps towards learning from mistakes.
Avoid Speaking in Catastrophic or Overly Dramatic Terms
For the most part, kids are highly imaginative and yet pretty literal. What we say conjures up real images for them. And unfortunately, as adults, we have a tendency to over-dramatize and often speak in catastrophic terms. Pay attention to what you say to your kids and around them. Statements like, “You have to do your homework or you will never get into college or find a job” or “You have to go to swim class, otherwise you can fall in the pool and drown” not only blow the problem way out of proportion, but also fill your child with anxiety. Keep the issue in perspective and contained so that your child can better evaluate what decisions to make.
Allow Appropriate Risk Taking
Naturally, we want to keep our kids safe. It’s what we’ve done from day one. But eliminating all risk robs our kids of the opportunity to learn resiliency. So as our children grow and develop, we need to allow for greater freedom and appropriate risk-taking so that they’re able to understand their own limits and face the consequences of their actions on an age-appropriate scale.
Let Them Make Mistakes
Failure isn’t the end of the world. A mistake isn’t a moment that defines a person for a lifetime to come. Instead, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow. We can explain the negative consequences of an action (or inaction, as the case may be) until we’re blue in the face. But experiencing those consequences often has a more memorable impact.
Of course that doesn’t mean we just sit back and let our kids get into every kind of trouble. But if you find that you’re constantly reminding your child about the consequences of smaller-scale items like homework deadlines, not sleeping on time, not putting their toys away and so on; allowing them to make their own mistakes and dealing with those outcomes will help them understand how to make better decisions in the future.
Hit the Pause Button
With mistakes come big emotions in little kids. It’s hard not to get caught up in the panic, when your child is over-reacting. The alarm bells sound immediately and our hearts begin to race. It’s important to hit the pause button, take a deep breath, and silence all the noise to be able to properly evaluate the issue. Studies show that parents and children often synchronize their heart rates and breathing, so taking a moment to hold each other and slow down will allow the both of you to face the situation more calmly.
Listen to and Overcome Emotions
When we’re in crisis mode and big emotions appear, we tend to react in a way that focuses on the emotion rather than the root cause. Emotions aren’t a problem to be fixed. The problem is a problem to be fixed. Talk about how your child is feeling – it’s ok to feel angry, hurt, or sad – but let the emotion run its course and then shift the focus back on to the actual problem. It’s when we express our emotions that we regain control of them and can start looking at next steps.
Say It and Mean it, Compassionately
More often than not, the problem our kids face simply has to do with not getting what they want. It’s a problem of having to abide by the rules and dealing with realities. In these moments, it’s critical for parents to hold the line. Giving into demands only teaches kids that emotional outburst will get them what they want – which won’t serve them well in the long run. So we need to be aware of triggers that cause us to immediately fold.
No means no…but that no doesn’t have to be unkind. It can come with hugs and soft spoken words that explain our reasoning for that particular boundary and redirecting our children to another activity that is possible.
Teach Them to Problem-Solve
When our children are having a tough time, it’s hard not to get involved. We immediately think to pick up the phone and call the teacher, the principal, or the mother of the child who wasn’t being very nice. But how we get involved is important. Rather than picking up the pieces and inserting ourselves into the situation, we can get our children talking, thinking critically, and problem solving. Ask them to verbally express their problem. Help them to break it down into manageable pieces that work towards a solution. Discuss the possible points of view of other people involved. Talk through how to do things differently in the future in order to avoid a similar problem. In other words, engage your child in figuring out how they can handle their own challenges.
Get Them Comfortable With Uncertainty
Resilient kids can face uncertain situations with confidence. Rather than providing our children with all the right answers all the time, admitting that we don’t know and talking through how to handle different scenarios will better set them up for facing the unknown. Kids can feel nervous about the first day of school, a doctor’s visit, a birthday party – so many unknowns – and they look to us for comfort. To ease their anxiety, rather than telling them that everything will be fine , we can help them talk through how they would navigate the challenges that make them the most nervous.
Resiliency helps kids navigate the different challenges of childhood and beyond. Resilient kids become resilient adults, and it’s important to remember: We’re not here to rescue. We’re not here to fix or to impress or to give the genius answer. We’re here to lead by example, to role model resiliency. And that kind of modeling is always beautiful.Tags : thrive relationships life lessons resiliency