Developing Emotional Resilience

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” – Frederick Douglas

Seems simple enough, right? I read a parenting book, 21 Mistakes Parent’s Make, that began a chapter with Douglas’ quote as he went on to say that a mistake many parents make is that they raise children and not adults. The author wrote about developing in your child an emotional resilience – the ability to tough it out when something just isn’t going as planned, to embrace responsibility, and to react positively and emotionally properly. I found this concept enlightening.

We hear a lot these days of this “snowflake generation” with their safe spaces, participation trophies, and an overall assessment that the youth today are incapable of handling difficult or challenging situations. I’d say that the media sensationalizes the concept as my experience mentoring college kids is the exact opposite, but the point stands and is worth a discussion on how we can overcome this weakness and raise strong children. I have a read a few articles online how emotional resilience is a trait you are somewhat born with to some degree, I just don’t buy it. I am not a psychologist, and am likely way off here, but that seems like a cop-out that only creates more snowflakes.

I am sure an expert can provide a whole list of ideas and concepts to turn this into a dissertation on children’s emotions. I want to offer up a few ideas we can employ in our own homes to build strong children, to give them the tools to overcome and persevere in the face of failure and difficulty, the tools to overcome their society-instilled intolerance for, well, life.

1) Teach Your Child to Embrace Responsibility

One way to foster an emotional resilience in our children is to teach them to embrace responsibility. Responsibility for their space and responsibility for their actions. Responsibility seems to me a conditioned behavior, a behavior that we, as parents, should be able to foster easily.

Responsibility for their space. Children should have some ownership of their domain and the responsibility to manage it. Age appropriate responsibility of course, and not something that is rewarded – but expected. As an example, my three year old is required to put his dirty clothes in the hamper, clean up his toys, dress himself, and prepare himself for the day and for bed. He is getting better, in any case! I’d wager that doing something we don’t want to do, but have to do, develops some degree of perseverance. Especially after a tornado hits the play room. And hopefully the grand payoff of completion reinforces the behavior.

Responsibility for Actions. There are consequences to all our actions and behaviors. This is a major part of life. Too often I see negative behaviors and actions go unaddressed or excused (she’s sick, he’s young for his age, etc.). I’m not advocating punishment for every little event, but a discussion, a behavior correction, an apology…anything that makes the event a bit uncomfortable for the kid is an opportunity to learn proper social skills, empathy, and the ability to accept a correction.

2) Teach Your Child to Embrace Failure, Encourage Risk

I put these in the same line of thought. I’m in a start-up business pitching crazy entrepreneurial type ideas. We put ourselves out there, build up the excitement, and sometimes, admittedly often, fail to get the buy-in we hope for. But we have to keep going. Again, that’s life. Risk invites success and and risk invites failure. Children grow when they are physically and mentally challenged and taking risks is the root of any challenge.

If you are unable to embrace failure and focus on finding a way to succeed and, again, persevere, life will be tough. Or stale without growth. Failure teaches us to get back up, to keep fighting. If properly developed, failure is the fuel of success.

3) Instill Optimism in Your Child

Perhaps the hardest trait to teach is optimism. Failure is discouraging. Challenges are frustrating. Sometimes life is just tough. It is a challenge for us adults to be constantly optimistic without effort – but a child has a constant supply of positive reinforcements that adults rarely have. Parents are great motivators, incredible encouragers.

Your kids will struggle with an activity and the easy way out is to quit. They think the activity is too boring, too difficult, too scary. Parents have a tendency to do a few things here: 1) allow them to give up completely. 2) do the task for them or 3) simply reinforce their kid’s opinion.

Let’s focus on a alternative. Positive encouragement. Help them remain optimistic. Let them know that they will absolutely get better, they just need to keep trying. That they will develop a better understanding of the activity and actually enjoy it. Positive reinforcement works wonders on the psyche, imagine the potential for a child.

4) Teach Your Child About Their Emotions

Emotional resilience means very little if a child doesn’t understand emotions in the first place. This presents a phenomenal opportunity to build trust with your child during vulnerable periods of emotions. When you identify your child is struggling and becoming emotional, be it frustrated, angry, upset, or whatever, help them by not just consoling them but walking them through the emotion. Help them understand why they are feeling this emotion and try to find a solution to resolving or redirecting the emotion to a positive emotion or action.

There are many ways to assist in the development of emotional resilience in our children. I’ve identified a few employed in our house and each family will have their own approach if they are cognizant of the goal. We should protect our children by helping them grow, by preparing them for life, and by building strong children. As each family is different, we need to evaluate our own situations and environment to establish an effective approach to this challenge.

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