When I think of the word resilient I think of a bouncing ball. It's big and red in my mind. The red symbolizes the intensity we often feel about life's challenges. The big part comes from the sense these challenges can feel huge and unmanageable. But like anything that's made of rubber, we have the ability to bounce back..sometimes higher than before.
That's what we want for our children. Teaching our kids great coping skills is one of the best gifts we can give them. On a daily basis, little ones can experience all sorts of disappointments, hurts and emotional injury. We can easily see the signs; from an anxious face at the top of a slide to a full blown tantrum in the grocery store. Sometimes our children can't seem to cope with life's difficulties. That's okay. It's part of the process. They have to feel the intense emotions so they can learn what to do differently next time. There's been a great deal of debate about whether or not some children are simply born more resilient. There's no doubt some kids I've met seem to have a more laid back personality and can roll with more of life's bumps while others seem to crumble at the first sign of trouble. Either way, there are many things we can do to promote a healthy, self reliant child.
1. Foster independence: From a 4-year old getting her own cereal to a 14 year old taking the bus to his dentist appointment. It's crucial children do things on their own. Get your youngster to help make their bed every day. Show them how to do it and encourage them to make it on their own. Independence doesn't come from just trying "big kid" things. It comes from doing it over and over again. That's how they become capable.
2. Don't make all the decisions for them: Should I play Barbies or soccer? Being asked your opinion as a parent can feel good but it's amazing how quickly they become to rely on you to decide for them. The root of this can be fear - fear of making a mistake and regretting it later. You are their easy way out. Don't be.
3. Teach problem solving: Your child has been asked to go to the park with a good friend but the next door neighbour is already over for a play date. What to do? Help with some simple options. I like to give 2 or 3. Would it work to invite the friend over to play as a group? Can you go to the park later? The discussion can be about priorities and which friend your son made the commitment to first. Then comes the problem solving.
4. Let them make mistakes: Let them organize their backpack for kindergarten. If they forget to put in a library book, you can talk about ways to stay organized. Would a sticky note help next time? At our house, we put things on our shoes at the front door the night before to remind us they're important. Come up with ways together to keep on track.
5. Look in the mirror: What made you a strong person? Was it getting cut from a sports team or having a friend dump you for someone else. We all went through life's bumps when we were young. Figure out what helped you cope and tell your kids about it.
Nurturing resiliency doesn't mean our children are on their own. Supportive, strong, respectful relationships help children pick themselves up and learn from their mistakes. Talk to them about the importance of strong connections. Tell them about people that have stood by you along the way. A helping hand allows all of us to bounce back after hitting the many bumps in the road. And with that support, just like a rubber ball sometimes we can bounce back stronger than before.
Join Karen Horsman for our LIVE online forum on Tuesday, May 17th from 9:00-5:00pm EST. Send in your questions or comments about early childhood development and Karen will be standing by to answer your posts.