I want to have a heart to heart with you about raising resilient children. These are children who bounce back and recover when things go wrong. Children who respond to the curve balls of life and relationships with flexibility and fortitude. Children who can quiet and calm themselves on the good and bad days. I think it’s safe to say that every loving parent wants to raise a resilient child, but the million-dollar question is, “How, exactly, do we do this?”
Should we hurry our kiddos through their tears? Do we tell them to “get over it” and “put on a strong face” so that nothing hurts them? Do we toughen them up by minimizing their feelings? I hate to say it, but the best way to ensure we do not raise a resilient child is to let our fears dictate our parenting style. I’m not going to lie. This is a tough one. Last week we looked at how we can help ourselves navigate hardship well. Now the question is, “How do we help our children learn this difficult, but valuable skill?” How do we teach young, formative brains to be resilient?
It may shock you to know that those who are the most resilient are the most comfortable with their feelings. These are children who have learned from mom, dad, grandparents, teachers and coaches how to feel big feelings and stay relationally connected as they learn to calm down. Oftentimes we have to face our own fears of our child looking weak in order to help them become strong. Think about that. We have to accept our child looking weak so they can be strong. In order to do this we have to be comfortable with our own weaknesses. Are you still with me? We have to learn that, in spite of our own failures and follies, God is still God. God can work with our mess ups and grow good things from the garden of our weaknesses.
It takes a ton of practice to learn how to manage what we feel. Even in my adult body, with so much more capacity than my sons, I still have days when my big feelings get the best of me. Ouch! I hate it when this happens. So, how exactly can we help our children learn this valuable skill when they have significantly less emotional capacity and maturity than we do?
As adults, it is our job to stay relationally connected to others while we feel our big feelings. Whether we like it or not, our children learn to endure hardship by our example, not our words. Depending on their age and level of maturity, our children need us to first attune and synchronize with them so they learn to navigate and calm the stormy sea of feelings and fears. In this way, children learn to stay relationally connected in the midst of their distress.
The daily practice of skills during the “easy” times provide us with the tools we need during the tough times. As we discussed in previous weeks, Remaining Relational, Acting Like Ourselves and Returning to Joy are vital to practice so we have these skills available when we need them. The relational brain skills of joy, quieting, appreciation, four-plus stories and joy bonds with our children all increase emotional capacity to endure hardship with style and grace. Some of these may be skills we are painfully aware that we are missing. Here is the good news. We can proactively learn these skills and we can find others in our family and community who have these skills to be resources. Just think about the people you know. Who lights up to see you and your children? Who recovers well when things go wrong? Who stays flexible during the hard times?
Chris and I recognize the reality that our boys need more than we can give them. Because of this realization, we work extra hard to surround them with people who bring out the best in them. In this way, my sons experience a diversity of skills. For example, my babysitters don’t know it, but when I first met them, I was actually interviewing them to see if they would be a source of joy, play, quieting and other skills for my sons. You see, play is not something that comes naturally to me. This is something I have to work very hard on day in and day out. It has been extremely rewarding to watch my boys play with their babysitters, knowing that, in spite of my deficits, they are still getting a lot of opportunities to play.
In order to train our children in the skills needed to endure hardship, we must first practice them. Please do not expect something from your children that you are not willing to do yourself. Every one of us can strengthen our own skills and prayerfully find and surround our children with safe people who are strong where we are weak. You are worth the effort. Your children are worth the effort. Let’s start by asking God to meet us right where we are and find the resources and opportunities to grow. Read RARE Leadership and learn more about these essentials for your most treasured relationships.