Building resilient children

A parent’s natural inclination to protect their children is easily understood. Ensuring relief from stressors, helping them avoid failure, and eliminating whatever adversity may hinder their happy development are assured goals of any well-meaning parent. But, while such actions are valuable and can accomplish what is hoped for, they each only offer short-term benefits and in reality, stand to create even greater adversity than what was to be avoided. Most certainly, they decrease the likelihood that children will develop the valuable tools necessary that could enhance their ability to overcome challenges in the future.

While it may be years before your children venture out on their own, life’s experiences for even the youngest children come almost immediately. Life is innately challenging, offering developmentally appropriate obstacles as the days, months, and years pass. One example of this is children working to develop the strength and stamina necessary for standing after crawling. Their use of tables, chairs, and other items in their immediate environment help them as they develop mastery. You choosing to observe and verbally encourage provides far better support than anything physical you may offer. These and other ideas like maintaining a broad perspective, encouraging lifelong communication, and being flexible yourselves are worth considering when exploring some ways that you may best support the development of resilience in your children. 

Broaden Your Focus
You have most likely spent a great deal of time planning and thinking about how to best improve on your children’s observable intellectual capacities. This way of thinking is all fine and good but don’t forget about lending your attention to ways in which you can promote their empathic, cooperative, problem solving tendencies. Avoiding rewards and limitless compromise will help them to develop an intrinsic motivation and an ability to be adaptable and open-minded when the unpredictable presents itself.

Actively Communicate and Listen
My wife and I have not always done the right thing as parents, but we have always been willing to talk about what the right thing is and our responsibility in righting our wrong. We demand the same of our children, ensuring that they understand we have their back and will support them in bringing resolve to whatever they face. Encourage your children to talk to you and to never fear your disappointment. As they grow, let them know that they can expect to hear your opinion and guidance about a great many things. They may like some of it and they may even choose to take your advice, or not, but they should know that you are always there to listen. This will be enough to enable your children to try, give it their all, and be headstrong when the oncoming challenge seems insurmountable. 

Show Resilience Yourself
The past year was undoubtedly challenging. Whether or not the future is too will depend largely on the level of resilience we show. Hence, we have a perfect opportunity to model flexibility, to create stability, and to actively participate in doing what is best for all of us. Through these means, we can steer ourselves to a brighter and healthier future. Your children will observe you doing so, and it will prove to be invaluable. 

Navigating the countless pitfalls that exist for your children can be daunting. Your natural inclination to limit any and all is understandable but beware, you may ultimately promote the inability of your children to manage themselves when such challenges arise. Making careful consideration to maintain a broad focus on characteristics of their development, to keep lines of communication open, and to display a level of resilience yourself may just be the ticket to reverse a trend. Carefully working to improve your children’s own level of resilience for when you are no longer there to provide them cover will offer great benefit and enable them to create a very, different world. 

Image Credit: MOMI

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Dr. Eric Dustman is the head of school at Montessori School of Maui. Serving in similar capacities for over two decades in Ohio and mainland China, his professional career has included research on empathy in children and opportunities to write and speak on topics related to art, leadership, school culture, and community building within schools. He is also a member of both the Hawaii Council of Private Schools and the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools Board of Directors.

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