Nature? Nurture? What makes the child who she is? Experts seem to agree that the make up of the child is going to be a result of both. The good news for parents is that you can influence the life skills your child develops and the resilience they have for coping with life.
Resilience, defined simply as the ability to adapt to circumstances, especially difficult ones, is one of the most important life coping skills a child can learn. I include in the definition the additional piece that says resilience also has to do with creating a reasonably stable, satisfying life. Resilience, it turns out, is all about choices.
So, parents, how do you help your kids learn resilience? Here are seven tips to help you develop resilient kids who become effectively coping adults.
1. Nurture children with warmth and a no-shaming approach. Some studies indicate that parental warmth is a part of the nurturance that creates children who feel safe and secure. A sense of safety and stability is the core from which resilience flows.
2. Set limits. Kids must have limits to bump up against or they will flounder and feel lost. Of course they push against the limits, and this is normal. Limits help kids to know what to expect, and being able to predict outcomes helps resilience develop by teaching kids the important idea that choices lead to consequences.
3. Follow through with the consequences you set. Small consequences that do not torture the parent do a better job than huge ones that are hard to implement and carry out. Also, consequences that are too big lead to frustration for the child, which leads to more stress. Overly frustrated or stressed kids not only may not get the message you are trying to teach, but also are at greater risk for other behavioral problems.
4. Offer one or two realistic choices. Giving choices is a great way to teach kids that they are in control of their choices, even if they are not always given the choices they most prefer. Keeping the choices within the realm of what is acceptable to you, the parent, also allows you to be “in charge,” while allowing the child to be in charge of his behavior. This teaches that one can choose in the face of adversity– or in any situation. And let’s face it, isn’t that life?
5. Model. Always one of the most, if not the most, important parent tools, modeling can demonstrate resilience in a couple ways. By letting your child be part of appropriate house choices, she gets to see how life is made up of all sorts of choices to be made. Of course, always keep the adult business between the adults. The modeling can also be subtle. If you feel out of control, find ways to adapt that do NOT include using your child as support. It is oh, so easy to forget this, especially if your child is older and bright. Keep them out of the heart of the solving, unless it involves them, because they will absorb parental stress. Find adult support. Where appropriate, you can debrief the kids on how a parental choice was made, where appropriate.
6. Debrief. After your child has reckoned with a difficult decision of her own, you can debrief the process, pointing out the benefits of choosing and discussing the results that took place. With little ones debriefing can be done with stories and play to demonstrate the choosing and coping process. In our family we have a character named Bumpy the Bunny who is always having to work her way out of some dilemma or other.
7. Rehearse. Take the child or even an adolescent through the choosing process by discussing beforehand what some of the options might be for solving the problem and what they might expect.
Resilience can be nurtured into existence by developing foresight, hindsight and insight.