Encouraging resilience in kids
Not long ago one of my younger sisters (in blue, on the left) was sitting chatting with me while her baby played nearby. At one point her little guy, who’s almost walking, plopped down onto the floor, then looked up in surprise at his momma. It was not a big hurt, but you could see him looking at her to see what she thought of the event. Was it worth making a fuss over? My sister’s eyebrows went up quizzically, she got a bright humorous look on her face, and she cheerfully said, “Boom!”
He smiled at her response, and went off to play again, reassured that this was a small happening. If she’d gasped and hurried to him to check for injury, doubtless he’d have reacted more dramatically. As I watched her, I realized that I did the very same thing when my kids were babies. No doubt our mother did the same thing for us.
I used to assume this parenting strategy was most useful when parenting tiny ones. But I’ve come to realize we can bless our kids long past infancy by modeling a relaxed response to setbacks and challenges.
A child might come to me worried about his part in the Christmas program. I’ll ask, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ and we talk through what might happen if they forget lines or come in at the wrong moment. I emphasize their preparedness (or help them get more prepared) and remind them that the very worst things, like falling down or being sick on stage, are usually also the least likely to happen. It also helps to talk about the purpose of the program (to tell about Jesus) and reassure them that folks watching the performance will be rooting for them.
If my child is having trouble with a friend, I say, ‘yeah, this happens sometimes’ or ‘this happened to me when I was a kid too’ and we talk about ways to be a good friend. I remind my child that another person’s unkindness is often related to that person’s ‘stuff’. We might talk about a possibility or two that could lead a person to be unpleasant, and talk about ways to respond kindly if it happens again. (One thing my own momma taught me was to assume the best about another person’s motives. Even if you’re occasionally wrong, it’s just a happier way to live life.)
There are occasional situations where I might need to advocate for my kids. And there are definitely times when I have to take a deep breath and talk myself down when I’m getting stressed over a situation my child is facing. Finding that ‘just-right’ balance (caring but not over-involved) is tricky, and I get it wrong sometimes. But I do best when I stay calm, and focus on communicating confidence in them and faith in God. Stuff happens in life, and almost none of it is the end of the world. One line my kids have heard a lot: “Life isn’t fair, but God is good, all the time.”
Do you use similar tactics with your children? I’d really love to hear what thoughts this post inspired in you. How do you encourage your kids to roll with the waves of life instead of getting off-balance?