We keep hearing this word “resiliency” when people talk about today’s generation of kids and young adults. What is resilience? It’s the ability to manage stressful/challenging situations, bounce back and grow from them. Unfortunately, it seems some parents believe resilience is magically acquired and will arrive in the mail about the same time as a high school diploma. Or maybe they think it’s part of the normal developmental process, like puberty, and it just shows up automatically at the age of 18.
I'm here to burst that bubble. There’s no Resiliency Fairy. It’s a little bit more like learning to read-someone has to teach you.
As parents, one of our most important jobs is to teach and foster resilience. I think we can all agree that handling stress, disappointment, setbacks, and difficult personalities is a pretty useful life skill. So, the magic question is how do WE teach our kids to be resilient? STOP doing things for your kids, they can do for themselves.
Allow them to have tough conversations, make mistakes, fail and deal with the consequences of their choices. We need to let our kids to be uncomfortable! Which means WE have to be ok being uncomfortable, too. We need to let them bomb a test, sit the bench, talk to the coach, lose friends, order their own food, be late, be cold, be hot, apologize to a teacher...
Your job is to talk them through those difficult situations, give them ideas IF they ask, but it’s never to do the difficult thing for them.
Even if they’re scared and anxious, DO NOT step in and take it from them. Building resilience comes from facing a challenge, and realizing you handled it, especially when it was hard. Your job is to show your child that you believe in her ability to handle a situation, help prepare her for the situation and let her go. It’s important you don’t attach your confidence to the outcome, but to the process. Show trust in her ability to tackle a difficult situation and handle the consequences-good or bad.
Over-functioning for your child, will never create resiliency. Over-functioning breeds anxiety and fear. People have to actually DO the thing to know they can do the thing. Self-confidence and resilience are born out of experience.
How will she know how to manage her life if you’ve always done it for her? How will he know he can do hard things, if he hasn’t ever had to experience and overcome anything difficult?
As parents, we sabotage the opportunity to build resilience with subtle messages that children shouldn't trust themselves. We tell them to eat when they say they aren’t hungry. We tell them to keep their coats on after they tell us they’re hot. We wake them every morning, instead of allowing them to use an alarm. We talk to every teacher and coach they struggle with. We call parents when friends are mean, we order their food. We help finish a project instead of letting her get a bad grade. We fill out the college application, we don't teach them to cook or do laundry. We order their college books (seriously?), we still give our high schoolers a bedtime?! How will they ever build resilience if you rob them of the opportunity to take responsibility for themselves?
Trust me, I know how hard it is to watch your child hurt and struggle. I also know how rewarding it is to watch a child grow from adversity, overcome anxiety, and build self-confidence. Maybe it sounds overwhelming and scary to trust your kids to solve their own problems. Maybe you’re petrified they’ll mess up. I can almost guarantee they will. We want them to mess up! Remember, resilience is the ability to “bounce back” when something is difficult. It’s knowing you have the tools in place to deal with setbacks and adversity. It’s a knowledge that you can handle difficult situations and come out stronger on the other side.
When parents swoop in and takeover, the message is “you’re not capable of solving this yourself” and “I don’t trust your ability to manage your own life.” We don't do this intentionally, but that's the message your child internalizes. Those messages foster anxiety and self-doubt. Teaching resilience means trusting our child’s ability to make choices and deal with the consequences. Especially if they mess it up! Failure is a wonderful opportunity to learn, revise and redo.
Don’t wait for the Resiliency Fairy. Pay attention to the everyday little moments you have in front of you to help your child cultivate strength, confidence and self-worth.
Yes, that's what I said, punishment does not work. Discipline works, if done correctly, but punishment-not so much. The word discipline actually means “to teach.” Teaching your kids works great. Random punishments that have nothing to do with what you actually want your child to learn are useless.
Let’s take the example from yesterday’s tip. You’ve reminded your daughter 12 times to hang up her clean clothes and she still hasn’t done it. You’ve lost anything resembling patience, so you yell “I’m taking your phone for 2 days because you can’t do something when I ask you to do it!” Sound familiar? Of course, it does.
Almost every parent I know uses their child’s phone or electronics to punish her when she “misbehaves.” Does taking her phone away teach her how to remember to put her clothes away? NO, it does not! Those two things are not connected at all. I know, lots of you are thinking, well if she wasn't on her phone so much, she’d be taking care of her stuff. Would she? Can you guarantee that? I don't think so.
Our goal as parents is to raise responsible, resilient, kind, loving, hard-working, productive, happy adults, right? If that’s your goal, you have to teach those skills. If she’s forgetting things when you ask, help her create ways to remember-teach her ways to help her meet your expectations. No punishment required.
Let’s say a consequence is actually in order-maybe your son hit or kicked his sibling. Obviously not acceptable, but make sure the consequence fits the crime. Taking away his electronics or sending him to bed early doesn’t teach him how to be kind.
So, the consequence has to be a way for him to show kindness to his brother, right? Maybe putting away his brother’s laundry for the week, doing one of his brother’s chores for the week, allowing his brother to go first every time for the next few days? Do you get the idea? No punishment required.
Things should only be taken away, when the “thing” was used inappropriately. If you’re teen used their phone to send a nasty text message (or worse), taking the phone away IS the natural consequence. If your teen didn't turn her homework in on time, taking her phone away doesn't teach her how to honor a deadline.
Discipline means “to teach.” Teaching our kids always works.
I truly believe all kids will do well if they can. Lots of people think kids will do well if the want to. They might be wrong.
Developmentally kids are born people pleasers until they reach about age 12. Then hormones and lived experience start to create some interesting issues, but up until that time, kids want to make you (the adults) happy. So, if your child is struggling to “behave” maybe ask yourself and your child-what’s getting in the way? Maybe your expectations don’t match his ability? Kids will do well if they can, so if they’re not doing well—it’s on us to figure it out.
Most of the kids I know and work with aren’t walking around trying to figure out how to upset you and push all your buttons. Developmentally, they can’t even create those kinds of calculated thoughts. If kids aren’t doing well, there’s always a reason. Sometimes it’s simple—they’re tired or hungry or you’ve reached the limit of shopping they can handle. That’s on you, not them. Adjust your expectations and be proactive, not reactive.
If your daughter has a problem remembering to hang up her clothes-she’s not doing it because she wants to watch you lose your mind for the 12th time this week. She might just be forgetting--kids do that--they honestly forget. So instead of yelling at her “I’ve told you 3 times to hang up your clothes! I’m taking your phone away for the night!” Try “It looks like you’re having a hard time remembering to hang up your clothes each day, let’s brainstorm some different ways to help you remember.” Hear the difference?
Kids brains are developing well into their 20’s, especially the frontal lobe which control all the executive functions. Executive functions are what can be called the brain’s Board of Directors. They control things like starting a task, remembering information, controlling impulsive behaviors, regulating emotions, time management, and organization.
In kids, the board of directors isn’t fully functioning. Some days they don't show up at all, sometimes only a few are at the meeting, other times board members might be asleep or fighting with each other. This is especially true for kids with ADHD, but it’s also important to remember that these executive functions develop over time in all kids.
So, when it seems like you’ve been battling all day with your kids about not listening, making a mess, fighting with their siblings, or forgetting things; please remember kids do well if they can. Take a minute and talk with her about the struggle and create a plan to solve the problem.
If your child is struggling academically, it’s your job to figure out why. There is a reason, and 95% of the time that reason is NOT because of the teacher. The reason could be a hundred things like he’s not getting enough sleep at night, he needs his hearing or vision checked, it might be a learning disability or ADHD—there’s always a reason.
That reason needs to be figured out and dealt with, not ignored. I have zero tolerance for anyone who says things like “she just needs to try harder” or “if he would just apply himself more” or “I know she’s capable, she just needs to do the work.” There’s a reason and it’s our job as parents to do whatever it takes to figure it out. If she could do well, she would do well.
Once I really embraced this idea, it was pretty easy for me to stop yelling and start problem solving. I saw my kids very differently. Their behavior didn't feel personal anymore. I no longer felt the need to “win” a battle about taking out the trash. I understood it was my job to help them figure out what the roadblock was, but they weren’t purposely throwing up the roadblocks.
It’s not magic, they’ll still drive you to the edge of insanity sometimes, but this perspective gave me a completely different toolbox to use when I found myself walking the ledge.