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Today's Family Magazine

Reading, writing and... resiliency?

By Stacy Turner

As parents, we often worry about how to best prepare our kids for success.  Books and articles abound on the benefits of music before birth, incorporating healthy eating habits for toddlers, the wonders of STEM and STEAM subjects for school-age kids, and the importance of dance or sports to build their confidence and self-esteem.  And while I agree that those things are important, I think that helping our children learn how to be resilient would serve them better.

Let’s face it, being an adult isn’t always sunshine and roses.  But being a kid certainly isn’t stress free, either.  Kids take tests, get sick, make friends, and sometimes get hurt by those friends.  As adults, if we try to step in and solve our kids’ problems, we take away their opportunity to learn how to do it themselves.  Those skills they’ll learn in dealing with childhood dilemmas are stepping stones to help them build the skills they’ll need to navigate through adulthood.

If you look around, the world is full of successful people.  But it’s important to note that they didn’t begin that way.  Often, they’re the ones that didn’t crumble when things didn’t go according to plan.  They eventually succeeded because they were able to get up, dust themselves off, and get back at it.  As painful as it may seem to us, we need to let our kids fail so they can figure out how to not fail.

NBA MVP Michael Jordan was quoted as saying, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games.  On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed.  I have failed over and over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.” 

“When they step into a situation,” explained licensed social worker and psychotherapist Lynn Lyons, “resilient kids have a sense they can figure out what they need to do and can handle what is thrown at them with a sense of confidence.”  This doesn’t mean that kids should do everything on their own, but that they know how to ask for help and are able to problem-solve to figure out their next steps.  By stepping in when things get hard, as seems to be the prevailing trend, parents can rob kids of those learning opportunities.

Luckily Lyons, who co-wrote a book on dealing with anxiety and raising independent kids, shared, “Resilience isn’t a birthright.  It can be taught.”  For recovering helicopter parents, Lyons notes that overprotecting kids only fuels their anxiety. She cautions parents not to accommodate their child’s every need.  She encourages parents to give their kids age-appropriate freedoms, which give kids opportunity to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Lyons also encourages parents to teach concrete skills.  For instance, if your child is shy, teach them how to start a conversation.  It’s important to let kids make mistakes, and know that it’s not the end of the world.  If they encounter a problem, ask them how they can try to fix it.  Help them manage their emotions when the outcome isn’t what they hoped. Most importantly, Lyons recommends that parents model resiliency. We certainly can’t expect our kids to be resilient when we fall apart the minute things don’t go our way.

Did you know that media mogul Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first TV anchor job?  Or that Thomas Edison’s teacher concluded that young Thomas wasn’t smart enough to learn anything in school?  As a divorced single mom on welfare who became one of the richest women in the world, J.K. Rowling (creator of Harry Potter) also knows a bit about resiliency.  Rowling noted, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

Resilient kids are problem-solvers, who face unfamiliar or tough situations and work to find good solutions, something we should all strive for.