More parents are aware of the concept of resiliency and wonder about strategies for raising resilient children. This blog post is a summary of some of my reflections as a parent with the intention of raising resilient children. Resiliency here refers to our emotional ability to endure and bounce back from difficult situations.

First of all, let’s explore the difference between protecting and sheltering. These concepts are different. As parents, one of our roles is protector. Lack of protection may lead to unbridled permissiveness, leaving children unprepared for situations beyond their capacity for safe navigation. Too much protection, on the other hand, can lead to sheltering. When we shelter our children, we seek to put barriers between them and situations that are difficult, frustrating, and may lead to loss or failure. Sheltering results in children who are unprepared emotionally to navigate even age-appropriate experiences.

About two years ago, our now 15-year-old son said to me and my husband, “How come you never forced me to stick to a sport? I could be really good at something by now.” He was clearly angry. We had two responses; the first was along the lines of “Are you aware of your own stubbornness? There is no way we were going to force you to do anything without unnecessary punishment or shame.” The second was, “One day, you will find something that you want to stick to, and then you will drive yourself.”

A few months later, on November 1, he texted me that he’d be home late because he was accompanying a friend to wrestling tryouts. His friend quickly decided he didn’t like the sport. My son decided he wanted to give it a try. He stated in our annual gratitude round at the Thanksgiving dinner table, “I am grateful for piano. And wrestling.” My husband and I found each other’s eyes and smiled. He had a great first year, earning Most Valuable Player on junior varsity. He loved wrestling. Then, the second year hit.

This year, he moved up to varsity and started losing. I noticed a shift in his posture, attitude, and emotions. One day, he’d enjoy the challenge of it all; the next few days, he’d want to quit. “I won’t quit,” he’d say, “I won’t allow myself to do that, but this is tough. On the piano, I hear the work I put in. In wrestling, it feels like all work and no gain. I keep losing.” Emotionally, he was drained even though, logically, he knew his body and mind were learning. I could see it from the side of the mat. Still, the results he wanted weren’t coming.

I have to admit, it was also hard for me to watch. As parents, we tend to be emotionally connected to our children. We don’t just intuit their emotions; they resonate in our own nervous systems. I wanted to make it better. Sometimes, I wanted to suggest topics to discuss with his coaches, but I also didn’t want to discount the drive he was showing. After all, this is a kid who I never had to wake up for a 6:30 AM weight lifting session or a 5:30 AM meeting at the school before our caravan to a tournament.  He sometimes hated it; He always showed up.

Then, about three-quarters of the way through the season, something shifted. He started to win. The previous losses were starting to pay off in the form of wins.

I’ve come across the question, “What would you do if you couldn’t fail?” I don’t like that question. Where’s the courage? Where’s the climb? Without those, where is the meaning?

After watching not just my son but other members of his wrestling team step onto the mat to face opponents with years of experience on them, I’ve come to value the question, “What would you do if you knew the road ahead was dark and brutal, and the path to progress, and maybe victory, was paved with losses?”

The reality is that we will face ups and downs as we work to reach our goals. Getting through the ups is relatively easy. Getting through the downs requires emotional regulation skills. With emotional regulation, we can sit with our feelings of anger, sadness, and disappointment and trust they will pass. More importantly, we sit with those feelings and know that we still have value. How can we parents help our children develop those skills? Here are some tips for raising resilient children:

  • Follow their lead
  • Allow them to take risks
  • Ask them what support they would like
  • Celebrate their successes
  • Honor their value as a person as separate from how they perform
  • Manage your own negative feelings when you see them struggle
  • Be available when they are feeling negative emotions
  • Ask if they are in a place to hear your advice before offering it
  • Give them space when they want it
  • Give them your silent presence when they want it
  • Let them express negative feelings (they are easier to release once they have been heard)
  • Reflect what they are saying back to them, rather than problem-solve or attempt to think for them
  • Normalize trying
  • Normalize losing
  • Reframe losses as lessons

Now that this son has come through some hard times and is ending his season with great wins, I am eager to see what he will do next year–if he chooses to continue. Yes, it is his decision. I will save that topic for another blog post.

 

 

 

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