You probably remember a few high-anxiety moments from your childhood that seem silly or unimportant now. In each of those memorable, almost-catastrophes, you learned a little bit about yourself. When your mother turned the bedroom light on, you gained a little more confidence to face the monster under the bed on your own next time. When your family moved and you switched schools, you likely relied on tools you already had to make new relationships.
In other words, you learned resilience.
The problems of childhood might seem small in comparison to the momentous stresses of adulthood, but even a small early change can have a big impact on how your child begins to make sense of the world.
Learning resilience during childhood means that your child will be able to roll up her sleeves and tackle problems head-on, whether by facing something on her own or being brave enough to ask for help. When she taps into her inner well of resilience, rather than feeling immediately overwhelmed by obstacles, she will be able to imagine a new path forward.
So what’s the biggest challenge in raising a resilient child? The hardest part is often learning to avoid insulating your child from potential learning experiences. You want her to be safe, happy, and emotionally secure; however, in the attempt to protect your child, it’s so easy to take the wheel before she’s had a chance to process situations and relationships in her own way.
Uncertainty might be even harder to allow your child to experience if you struggle with anxiety yourself. For that reason, concentrating on the how in teaching your child resiliency can be really helpful.
How you can raise a resilient child
Don’t worry—raising a resilient child doesn’t mean letting go completely. You can teach your child resilience and act as a caring parent. Overprotection happens when a child can’t learn to master her own emotions or circumstances.
Maybe your child is scared of the dark and wants to sleep near you and your spouse. It’s hard to say no, but the truth is, you’re still just as much her protector when you help her take steps to sleep in her own room instead.
Encourage practical skills
A big lesson your child learns from resilience is an attitude of openness when she’s in uncharted territory. When you or your spouse immediately step in to soothe and protect, a new situation is reinforced as scary. If you focus on teaching her a new skill, she’ll be better able to identify what she needs to face a problem with confidence—even if that means asking for help.
When your child feels anxious about leaving for camp, allowing her to stay home instead rewards your child’s anxiety—not your child. Instead, help her become a resilient child by thinking about practical ways to make the transition easier. In the process, she’ll probably start feeling better, and she’ll be more ready to handle life’s next challenge when it comes.
When you’re already stressed and your child leaves her brand new bike in the rain or tracks dirt all over the house, it’s easy to feel upset. Maybe you think she should know better by now. If you can, think of her missteps as learning opportunities. Rather than asking “why” your child forgot to do a chore or made a mess, focus on how the problem can be fixed. Lessons that start with “how” are a great way to teach personal responsibility.
Acknowledge her emotions
When you’re raising a resilient child, it’s important for her to be able to feel and recognize her emotions—even when they make a situation difficult for you. You can help her by acknowledging her feelings, then focusing on her options for handling them.