One of the most common refrains parents tell me is something along the lines of "I don't want my child to feel X." You can fill in the blank. I don't want my child to feel: left out, rejected, like a failure, sad, worried, under-confident, lonely, angry. In short, no one wants their child to feel pain.
As parents we may be a path toward self-awareness and understand that pain and suffering is part of life, but with our children we are quick to shield them from any emotional pain or discomfort.
Most parents just want their child to be happy. What if I told you that maybe the goal should not happiness, but something different — emotional health. By emotional health I mean that we can be with all our emotions without experiencing reactivity: resiliency, in other words.
When we steer our children to happiness, we are on some level saying that other, more difficult emotions are not OK. We are also disrupting our children's natural ability to feel the normal spectrum of human emotions which inevitably includes sadness, anger, anxiety, boredom, fear, relief, and so on.
But by trying to "fix" difficult emotions for our children, we disrupt them. When we vigilantly anticipate problems before they happen, we are not helping our kids become stronger. What parents forget is that the path ahead is bumpy. Boulders and obstacles are constantly littered along our life trails and our children's, because that is how we all grow, mature and become wiser.
Our children need to struggle and to feel their emotions to learn resiliency. Struggle is good, necessary, important.
And resiliency can be taught and learned. It leads back to how adults frame struggle.
Here are nine steps to foster more resilient children:
1. Validate and normalize all of your child's feelings.
... even if she is mad at you. This is how children process and move through emotions naturally; it will help them develop a healthier ability to cope with difficult feelings.
Do not tiptoe around your child's feelings, sugarcoat them or try to brush them under the rug with distractions. Allow your child to be upset without feeling like you need to fix or change anything. You can say, "I hear you," "That is frustrating," "What a bummer."
2. Send two messages at once.
What do I mean by that? Well, you can simultaneously accept everything your child is feeling and set limits around behaviors.
This allows kids to feel heard but also know they need to be accountable for their behaviors; they can't just run around screaming and throwing things at the dinner table ...
For example, if your child is mad and is yelling, you can say, "This must be upsetting. It is hard to not get your way, but yelling is never OK and if you continue to yell you will have a break in your room." This will allow your child to feel heard, but also aware of boundaries.
3. Ask your child to solve his own problems.
You can be an active supporter in whatever the issue or conflict is, but don't step in as the hero who will fix everything. Allow your child to feel capable and in-charge of addressing her own problems.
4. That said, understand the difference between safe and unsafe struggle.
If it is safe struggle around homework, chores, or a sibling conflict, let your child have it without you interference. However, "unsafe struggle" might include bullying, struggling with learning disability or experimenting with alcohol. If it is unsafe struggle then you have the green light to step in as a parent.
5. Ask your child to listen to her own wisdom or intuition.
If your child can learn the power of intuition at a young age, she will gain maturity at a young age. If you invite your child to consider her own wisdom, rather than telling her what to do, you will help your child become more self-aware. This will help foster children's relationship with their instincts which will be a guide for a fulfilling life.
6. Frame struggle as good and difficult emotions as normal.
The problem is not anxiety or anger, the problem is the behaviors we do, our reactions, when we are anxious or angry. Typically unproductive reactions to anxiety and anger include impulsively snapping at others, or feeling overwhelmed and shutting down. When we accept emotions, our kids likely will as well.
7. Encourage your children to feel all their feelings fully.
Feeling — even difficult things — is part of a rich and satisfying life. Emphasize to your kids the benefits of living a dynamic life rather than one that is rigid and stuck (even if it's hard at times).
8 . Normalize mistakes, setbacks and failures.
These are essential parts of the learning and maturation process. No one has succeeded without lots of experience with failure.
9. Accept your child fully.
If your child feels accepted, he/she will be more likely to accept him/herself as a result.