10 Tips For Raising Resilient Kids
1. Don’t accommodate every need.
According to Lyons, “whenever we try to provide certainty and comfort, we are getting in the way of children being able to develop their own problem-solving and mastery.” (Overprotecting kids only fuels their anxiety.)
She gave a “dramatic but not uncommon example.” A child gets out of school at 3:15. But they worry about their parent picking them up on time. So the parent arrives an hour earlier and parks by their child’s classroom so they can see the parent is there.
2. Avoid eliminating all risk.
Naturally, parents want to keep their kids safe. But eliminating all risk robs kids of learning resiliency. In one family Lyons knows, the kids aren’t allowed to eat when the parents are not home, because there’s a risk they might choke on their food. (If the kids are old enough to stay home alone, they’re old enough to eat, she said.)
The key is to allow appropriate risks and teach your kids essential skills. “Start young. The child who’s going to get his driver’s license is going to have started when he’s 5 [years old] learning how to ride his bike and look both ways [slow down and pay attention].” Giving kids age-appropriate freedom helps them learn their own limits, she said.
3. Teach them to problem-solve.
Let’s say your child wants to go to sleep-away camp, but they’re nervous about being away from home. An anxious parent, Lyons said, might say, “Well, then there’s no reason for you to go.” But a better approach is to normalize your child’s nervousness, and help them figure out how to navigate being homesick. So you might ask your child how they can practice getting used to being away from home.
When Lyons’s son was anxious about his first final exam, they brainstormed strategies, including how he’d manage his time and schedule in order to study for the exam. In other words, engage your child in figuring out how they can handle challenges. Give them the opportunity, over and over, “to figure out what works and what doesn’t.”
4. Teach your kids concrete skills.
When Lyons works with kids, she focuses on the specific skills they’ll need to learn in order to handle certain situations. She asks herself, “Where are we going with this [situation]? What skill do they need to get there?” For instance, she might teach a shy child how to greet someone and start a conversation.
5. Avoid “why” questions.
“Why” questions aren’t helpful in promoting problem-solving.
Ask “how” questions instead. "How are you going to do better on your next test?" "How do you handle the noisy boys on the bus that bug you?”
6. Don’t provide all the answers.
Rather than providing your kids with every answer, start using the phrase “I don’t know." Using this phrase helps kids learn to tolerate uncertainty and think about ways to deal with potential challenges.
Starting with small situations when they’re young helps prepare kids to handle bigger trials. They won’t like it, but they’ll get used to it.
For instance, if your child asks if they’re getting a shot at the doctor’s office, instead of placating them, say, “I don’t know. You might be due for a shot. Let’s figure out how you’re doing to get through it.”
If your child complains about not liking a teacher, instead of saying, “I will see if I can get your teacher changed,” you might explain that there will likely be people from time to time that your student doesn't like. Help your child figure out how to manage those feelings.
7. Avoid talking in catastrophic terms.
Pay attention to what you say to your kids and around them. Anxious parents, in particular, tend to talk very catastrophically around their children.
8. Let your kids make mistakes.
Failure is not the end of the world. It’s the place you get to when you figure out what to do next. Letting kids mess up is tough and painful for parents. But it helps kids learn how to fix slip-ups and make better decisions next time.
9. Help them manage their emotions.
Emotional management is key in resilience. Teach your kids that all emotions are OK. It’s OK to feel angry that you lost the game or someone else finished your ice cream. Also, teach them that after feeling their feelings, they need to think through what they’re doing next.
“Kids learn very quickly which powerful emotions get them what they want. Parents have to learn how to ride the emotions, too.” You might tell your child, “I understand that you feel that way. I’d feel the same way if I were in your shoes, but now you have to figure out what the appropriate next step is.”
If your child throws a tantrum, she said, be clear about what behavior is appropriate (and inappropriate). You might say, “I’m sorry we’re not going to get ice cream, but this behavior is unacceptable.”
10. Model resiliency.
Of course, kids also learn from observing their parents’ behavior. Try to be calm and consistent, Lyons said. “You cannot say to a child you want them to control their emotions, while you yourself are flipping out.” “Parenting takes a lot of practice and we all screw up.” When you do make a mistake, admit it. “I really screwed up. I’m sorry I handled that poorly. Let’s talk about a different way to handle that in the future,” Lyons said.
Resiliency helps kids navigate the inevitable trials, triumphs and tribulations of childhood and adolescence. Resilient kids also become resilient adults, able to survive and thrive in the face of life’s unavoidable stressors.