Kids today seem to fall apart from the slightest adversity. They give up too quickly and are lacking a resilient mindset.
It might be us parents that are at fault. We are a generation that is used to our comforts and we want to make our kids just as comfortable. We don't want them to experience pain or any type of difficulty. We try to micromanage their lives and make things go smoothly for them.
This is a big mistake. It makes kids feel anxious and powerless because we are sending them the message, “I don't believe you can cope, so I will take care of everything for you.”
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” –Frederick Douglass
Instead we want to focus on building resilience in kids. We want them to know that they can handle their pain, disappointment and problems. They have the tools within themselves to bounce back from adversity.
Kenneth Ginsburg defines resilience in this way:
Resilience is the capacity to rise above difficult circumstances, allowing our children to exist in this less-than-perfect world, while moving forward with optimism and confidence.
Resilience is a very Jewish trait. As a people we have endured many horrific struggles throughout history. According to our Sages, our ability to survive and flourish is in Abraham’s merit. Abraham withstood 10 trials in his lifetime. He had resilience, that ability to accept, cope and bounce back from adversity. We have inherited this ability from Abraham.
Here are 4 ways we can make sure our kids are resilient.
1. It’s all in our minds
Dr. Albert Ellis, in his groundbreaking work on resilience explains that the ability to cope with adversity is all dependent on what we “think” when we are met with challenges. Resilient people react to stress with a “can do” attitude because they “think” of themselves as capable and competent. They will then “feel” good about their abilities to manage their problems and they will then view their difficulties as opportunities to learn and grow.
One way to promote resilience in kids is to make them aware of the relationship between “thinking” and “feeling.” So quite simply, if they “think” they are capable of solving their own problems then they will “feel” confident about their ability to cope with disappointment or even trauma. If they “think” that they are incapable then they will “feel” despair and will most probably give up.
As parents we can influence our kids thinking styles.
One simple way to do that is to role model a resilient thinking style by talking out loud about our own thought processes:
- “I was really upset because our flight was cancelled. But I said to myself, in our family we try to find solutions to our problems. I called the airline and spent a lot of time on the phone, but I worked it out- we got another flight.”
- “We are having all this last minute company and I keep on telling myself, ‘I can’t do this’, instead I need to say, ‘I can figure this out, I might need some help, like doing takeout or giving you guys some cooking jobs, but I can do this.’ It makes me feel so much better when I tell myself I can do it.”
When we see our children facing a challenge we can foster awareness of their thinking style by asking our kids: “What are you saying to yourself in your head? Are you saying, ‘I can’t do this?’ Do you think you are calm enough to say ‘I can do this’ or even ‘I can ask someone for help…and then I can do it…”
Teaching our kids that they have the ability to change their thinking from “can’t do” to “can do” will help them develop the necessary skills needed for a resilient mindset.
2. See the learning potential in your children’s problems
It is so hard to watch our kids struggle. Our initial reaction is to jump right in make them feel better and fix their problems. Unfortunately that is not what our kids need from us. What they need is some empathy and encouragement in solving problems. This sends them the message: “You can do this. It feels tough but you can manage frustration and disappointment.” In other words, we help them develop a resilient mindset.
This is how it works. Your child says: “I can’t study for this test. It’s too hard. The teacher doesn’t teach us anything!” Don’t try to fix it: “You should complain to the teacher, maybe I will give her a call. You shouldn't have to take the test if she didn't teach you the information.”
Don’t try to make him feel better: “ Don't worry it’s not such a big deal. It is not so bad, once you get started it will be real easy!”
Don’t try to save him: “I will help you. I will teach you everything you need to know.”
Instead you can try the following:
Empathize by just listening and reflecting their feelings: “You seem worried about this test tomorrow. You don't feel like you have enough information to study for the test.”
Empathize and gently ask them their plans: “Sounds rough, do you have some ideas on what you could do?
Then sit back and continue to encourage them to come up with their own ideas on how they can solve this problem. You will have less fighting and more resilient thinking.
3. Help kids think positive
Resilient people tend to be happier and more positive. We can teach our kids to have a more positive attitude by letting them know that there are more positive ways to look at tough situations. There is a great Jewish expression that helps us to do that, “Gam zu l’tovah” – “This is also for the good.” This is a great phrase to bandy about when things don't seem to be going our way.
- “You really wanted to go the park today and now it is raining. Gam zu l’tovah. It does give us an opportunity to cuddle on the couch and read our new library books.”
- “Our favorite ice cream store closed down! Oh no! Gam zu l’tovah, we can now try that new ice cream store that we wanted to try!”
(A quick disclaimer, we don't want to use this phrase to dismiss our kid’s toughest and roughest feelings. When kids are down and out they might be really annoyed if you tell them, “this is also for the good.” You might want to wait until they have calmed down a bit. You can tentatively try them out by asking them, “Are you ready to come up with some ideas on how this can be positive?”)
4. Celebrate mistakes
Resilient people believe that mistakes can be viewed in a positive way; they are opportunities for growth and learning.
Children can be taught to think about mistakes in this way. We should not shame children when they make mistakes. Faber and Mazlish recount a story in their book, “How To Be The Parent You Always Wanted To Be” about a mother whose child left his cup at the edge of the table and it spilled. The child was very upset and the mother wanted to use this as an opportunity to help him understand the value of learning and making mistakes. So she said, “Sam, you learned something new! You just learned that when you leave a cup at the edge of the table it is likely that it will spill. Cups need to be set down more towards the middle of the table.”
We can all do this. It is helpful if we have some pat phrases and sayings that we can use to highlight this idea. For example:
- “If we learn from mistakes, then they are not really mistakes.”
- “Mistakes are a great way to learn new ways to do things.”
- “We don’t get in trouble for mistakes in this house.”
Building resilient kids is essential to helping them grow to be healthy and resourceful adults. Teaching our kids to think, “I can do this,” seeing the learning potential in our kids problems, helping kids think positive and celebrating mistakes are all great ways to do just that.