One of the most important gifts a parent can bestow upon their child is resilience.
Over the decades since the 1970’s, the message regarding the significance of self-esteem has certainly been taken to heart by many parents, and it is important, but some of the ways people go about strengthening a child’s self-esteem result in weakening.
A couple of days ago, I read a letter submitted to a parenting advice column where a mother was torn up about whether or not she and her husband should move the family to Florida from California. The husband actually had no preference regarding moving or staying, so he agreed to fully support whatever the wife decided. All of their extended family was in California but the mom was interested in a lower cost of living while continuing to reside in a warm, oceanic environment. The issue she struggled with was whether or not their six-year-old son would be able to handle it. She explained he would miss his grandparents and cousins, not to mention the surroundings would be completely unknown. She wanted to know if it her six-year-old would be okay or if she should stay put for his benefit.
Initially, my internal response was, “Give me a break.” Many people move. A lot of parents have to travel regularly or invite family to visit in order for kids to maintain connections with extended family, and implementing FaceTime, writing, or talking on the phone also keep ties strong with grandparents and other relatives.
Here’s the thing, if you treat your child or children as though they are fragile, they will be. Protecting them from sadness and disappointment doesn’t protect your child’s self-esteem; it actually makes the young one feel like everything will always go their way in life. We all know that is not the case. Life isn’t fair or free of hardships.
When a child has the opportunity to experience and deal with the unexpected or undesired with the support of loving family, they learn that they won’t always know what’s ahead or like it, but they are strong enough to adapt and discover new ways to thrive in the face of difficulties.
Years ago, a study was done of young people who grew up in abusive homes or foster care to see why some went on to be successful, whatever that meant to the individual, and those who were caught in a whirlpool of negative life circumstances. The most important variable was determined to be the presence of one adult who believed in them somewhere along the way. This was true if the adult was a teacher they had for one year in elementary school, a neighbor, an early employer, etc. It just took ONE. A single trusted adult who saw the child as capable of rising above their circumstances taught the subject to be sure of themselves and develop resilience. Belief in one’s self to overcome and adapt is resilience.
So, keeping your kid wrapped in cottonballs, hovering above to fend off any challenges or difficulties, does the opposite of building self-identity, self-worth, goal-setting and achievement. This results, instead, in a clingy child, unsure of how to handle age-appropriate life situations without calling for reinforcements.
Someday, your offspring will encounter a bully at recess, a sharp reprimand from the lunch lady, a bad score on a test, a teacher they deem unfair, rejections upon application for jobs, highschool sweetheart break-up, a car accident, deaths of loved ones, and more that can’t be predicted. If you would like your son or daughter to possess self-assurance, the ability to bounce back, tools to adapt to the unexpected, and confidence, they must have developed these aspects of themselves.
As a parent of two sons very close in age, I understand the desire to protect them from injustice, bullies, and adults who may not appreciate them the way you do. I tried to let neighborhood kids work things out but did step in when a bully was regularly coming after my sons. As a former teacher, I definitely had differences with how my children were treated by some of their classroom teachers. Instead of taking the teacher to task, I coached my kids how to get along with an authority they don’t like.
When your child comes across a disappointment or sad event, sit with them as they cry or otherwise express their feelings of anger or bewilderment. Tools for you include rubbing backs, holding hands, listening more than talking, and asking questions. Instead of telling them how it is and what they should do, ask them what happened and what options they can consider. Of course, if they are unable to process this, you consequently guide them with clarity and suggestions, butnot taking it from them to handle on your own.
Another approach I took was to make sure negative consequences were carried out following misbehavior, even if the child’s doe eyes beseech you to lift the sentence. I followed through with the what I said would be the result. When my youngest wrote an inappropriate word on another kid’s end-of-the-year signing t-shirt on a Friday and the WHOLE school had to stop the tradition, I called on Monday morning to remind the staff my son’s punishment was to spend all recesses in detention that day. The office worker who took my call asked, “You’re calling to say your son needs to go to detention today?” “Yes,” I answered. I’m sure they’re more familiar with parents calling up to complain. I wanted my children to know the school and I were copacetic, communicating, and sharing common expectations. Going after your child’s teacher or school staff models to your child that one needn’t follow directions from authorities, but just appeal to their mom or dad to get their way.
Folks lament the “entitled” attitude of today’s youth, which they’ve most likely engendered themselves. Want to avoid your children developing a feeling of entitlement? Do not buy them everything they want. Do not help them get away with misbehavior. Assist them in navigating life’s difficulties instead of erasing them. Lead them to exercise and develop their resilience muscles; they’ll come in handy when your son or daughter doesn’t make the team, get the job, or are pulled over by police. Instead of rocking their world and reducing them to rubble, they’ll be able to take deep breaths, pull themselves together, and walk through those difficulties knowing they’ll be okay.
“Not to spoil the ending, but things are going to be okay,” from a bumpersticker.
Sara’s education and experience: B.A. Ed; M.S. Counseling; teacher grades K & 2/3, educator for childcare providers, training in Positive Discipline and Growing, parent educator, program director of crisis nursery, including parent support, staff management & training, stay home mom 16 years with two sons born 19 months apart, medical transcription for 10 years in order to stay home, substitute teacher grades K through 12. Blogs about a wide variety of topics on survivingsara.net.