Today’s parents are working overtime to help pave the way for their kids. The New York Times has dubbed them ‘snowplow’ or ‘lawn mower parents’ – ‘machines chugging ahead, clearing any obstacles in their child’s path to success, so they don’t have to encounter failure, frustration or lost opportunities’. The problem is, it doesn’t work. If our kids never face a challenge, how will they cope in the real world, when challenges come fast and furious? This doesn’t mean we should throw our children to the wolves. Too much challenge too soon ruins resilience as well. There’s a balance, and as parents, our job is to guide our children wisely and compassionately towards that balance.
9 Ways to a Resilient Child
In my book, 9 Ways to a Resilient Child, I emphasise that resilience is not about never struggling. A resilient person may suffer from depression, anxiety or trauma. They may face very significant challenges in their lives. Resilience is about being able to adapt positively to difficult times, setbacks and other significant challenges, and avoid maladaptive outcomes. So, here are four of the most important resources we can give our kids to build resilience – that is, to help them adapt positively, even when times are tough.
A strong parent – child relationship
Relationships, and especially the parent-child relationship, are the most important thing for our kids’ resilience. In fact, the single most important factor contributing to having resilient children is a stable, committed relationship with a supportive parent or caregiver. Parents that are loving, caring and available provide support, scaffolding, protection and comfort to their kids. These interactions buffer children from developmental setbacks and foster the ability to bounce back from obstacles. We can build these strong connections with our kids in many ways. Having a regular family dinnertime, where you spend time talking with your kids and showing love and support, is one great place to start. The more you spend time with your kids, the more loved and supported they will feel, and the more resilience they will build.
Develop their strengths
One of the best things for promoting resilience is having the belief that we are competent and able to face difficult challenges. We can help our children develop those skills by helping them find their strengths. Inside each of our children is the potential for excellence. It’s something that lights them up, energises them, feels authentic, and something they have a natural proclivity for. As parents, we can help our kids identify this capacity and develop those strengths. Using strengths builds wellbeing and makes people more resilient. Sometimes our child’s strengths aren’t immediately obvious. We might need to cast a wide net, spending time (and maybe even money) to find the thing that really lights them up.
Controlling our kids makes them anxious. And constantly making decisions for our kids, or ‘fixing’ things, undermines their decision-making skills, their confidence and their resilience. Instead, we should encourage our kids to make decisions and act for themselves in a way that is in line with their values (and hopefully ours!). When kids feel safe and supported, and are given choice and responsibility, they build resilience.
‘Hope’ is having a goal, the belief that you can create a route to that goal and the belief that you can navigate that pathway to reach the goal. Teaching your child to be hope-ful gives them resilience. When hopeful kids experience failure, they develop new pathways to pursue and alternative routes to their goals. Hope-less kids just give up. We can teach our kids to be hope-ful. Help them find a goal and develop the plans and routes to achieve that goal. When they get stuck, teach them to tap into their resourcefulness and initiative by brainstorming new ideas and seeking new skills.
As much as it can be painful to watch our kids’ struggle, that’s our problem, not theirs. Allowing them to struggle, with our love and support, gives them a chance to develop resilience. And resilience will take them a lot further than a life clear of obstacles.
You can find more advice on increasing your child's resilience in 9 Ways to a Resilient Child.