As the end of November rolls around, many of us are compiling our Gratitude Lists for the big day that’s just around the corner.
· Healthy children
· Success at work
· Being with family at the holiday
It’s not hard to be grateful for the good things in our lives, is it?
As a parent and parenting coach, I want to share some even better grist for your Thanksgiving thank-yous this year. This year, I am encouraging my family, friends, and clients to be grateful for the challenges our children face – because navigating tough times successfully is what transforms kids into resilient and capable adults
Why would any parent be grateful for difficult situations that cause our children to struggle, have their feelings hurt, or even fail? According to a growing body of research, just about every parent on the planet should be. Psychologists and researchers have demonstrated that what differentiates kids, what helps them to develop the resilience and “grit” so crucial to navigating modern life, is learning how to deal with the challenges and tough times that are central to the human experience.
Most of us tend to define gratitude and success far too narrowly, equating them with the times when everything is going smoothly. We implicitly teach that to our kids too by ameliorating their troubles and spoon-feeding solutions to them.
Parents do better by their adults-in-training when we focus less on self-esteem and more on self-efficacy. Here are 10 tips that can help you raise resilient kids who become resilient adults.
1. Check your parenting expectations at the door. Do whatever is necessary to get it out of your head that “good” parenting is defined by how much smooth sailing your children – and your family – experiences.
2. Change how you talk to your kids. Instead of promising, “Don’t worry; I’ll fix it” say “I know things are hard, but if you persevere, I promise you’ll find a way to resolve this – and be better for the effort.”
3. Get out of the way! Don’t always race ahead of your kids to level the playing field, literally or figuratively. If your 8th grader wants friends but is having trouble making them, don’t try to arrange things behind the scenes. Instead, help him navigate the feelings of rejection and teach him skills for finding his tribe.
4. Stand by your child. Yes, get out of the way, but that doesn’t mean going away. Your kids need your support and motivation even more when their life gets hard. Offer suggestions when asked – or when they are truly at an impasse.
5. Honor their emotional experience. As hard as it is to see your “baby” in pain, let her or him know it’s OK to be upset by an upsetting situation. Above all, be empathic when your child communicates their hurt feelings. If they aren’t talkers, be mindful of their behavior and help them identify what they are feeling. Listening is critical.
6. Set boundaries for expressing emotion. Some parents may be tolerant of their kids swearing or yelling or breaking things when they’re angry. I wasn’t. I was supportive of my kid’s anger and sadness, but I saw it as my job to teach them how to feel their feelings without being abusive to others. For the littler ones, be sure to provide plenty of “containment” for their more difficult emotions so they’re safe.
7. Express confidence in their abilities. Persevering through challenges is uncharted territory for young kids. Telling them how much you believe in their abilities helps them come to believe that they are indeed capable of advocating for themselves. Once they have a few successes under their belt, you can reference those when the next hurdle arises.
8. Model resilience. One of the biggest ways parents can help their kids is to stop interviewing them each night at dinner and create a dialogue instead. Share how you faced a challenging discussion with your boss or what happened when you told a close friend a truth you had been avoiding. I constantly share my foibles and what I learned through them with my kids. It’s helped them to see my humanity, too.
9. Trust the process. Teaching your children how to deal with problems is one of the best gifts you can bestow. Frankly, I wouldn’t have “perfect” kids even if that were possible. My oldest son, now in his first professional job, would say his current success – and his outlook on life – has more to do with the academic nosedive he took as a sophomore than with all the easy times combined.
10. Be grateful for every bump in the road. Each time you feel frustrated for your child or want to swoop in and fix everything, remember that your new definition of “good” parenting is resilient children who feel a sense of empowerment, ownership and self-efficacy when it comes to life’s challenges.
Empower you children to own their successes and failures and you put them in control of their destiny. That’s the best goal of parenting there is.