Taking Risks to Build Resilience
Resilience, n. an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change
- Merrian Webster
Resilience is being tough. It's the ability to get back up when you fall down. Resilience is earned through overcoming challenges. Resilience is learning from your mistakes.
Parents don't want their children to suffer. They want to shield them from the hard things in life, but when they do this, they hinder their children's ability to form resilience. If someone is always doing the hard work for you, if when you fail someone gives you the prize anyway, what have you learned? When a parent shields their child from making mistakes or taking risks, they may believe they are being loving. They may think they are teaching kindness. When a parent makes a teacher change a test grade or buys them out of a traffic ticket, what did the adolescent learn? When we shield our children from life, they don't form the ability to handle life. So what happens when the child becomes an adult failing in the workplace? What happens when the parents can no longer interfere?
If they can't do it on their own, they aren't ready yet
When your infant is learning to roll over, step back. Don't push them over, give them the space to work it out (respond to sobbing of course, but give them a chance). When you prop an infant up that can not yet sit on their own, you are interfering with the development of their muscle groups. Lay them on the floor, they will sit when their body is ready. When they are learning to walk, don't hold their hands. When they are ready, they will pull up to a stand, they will walk along the furniture, and they will reach out and take that first step.
Children get injured at the playground because they don't know their limits. When an adult steps in and lifts the child higher than they can climb, the child doesn't learn to climb safely. They won't know exactly how much strength is needed to get to the next step. They won't have an awareness of the height nor the skills to get safely down. The children swinging from the tops of the trees however, got there from careful testing of each branch, from looking down and calculating distance. They built up confidence over time. There shouldn't be rules at a playground, because when an adult does not interfere, children learn their limits.
Every minor fall your child experiences on the way to the top teaches them how to be safer next time. Let them fall. If you have to catch them for safety, do it in a way that slows the impact, but let the impact still occur.
If your child is stuck, it's tempting to pluck them out. When they are struggling with homework, it's easy to give the answer. When a child has a hard time with a friend, you want to make it better. Stop. When you interfere with problem solving, you are taking away an important part of being a successful human. Instead, walk them through the steps.
1. Find the Problem
"Hmm. You climbed up, and you can't find a way down."
2. Acknowledge the emotion
"Being up so high is making you nervous."
3. Calm Down
"Let's take some deep breaths and see if we can't find a way to solve this."
"How did you get to that spot? What do you think you need to do? Where was the last spot you put your hands and feet?"
"Hmm. That's an idea. Why don't you try and see if it works."
6. Try Again
"Well, that didn't work. What else can you try?"
"That was hard, but you solved your problem!"
When They're not OK
"You're OK! You're OK!" How many times have you heard well meaning adults say this to young children who are clearly wailing and definitely do not feel ok? Resilience isn't formed through a lie. Tell the truth and work through the problem. "You fell and got hurt. Ouch! You bumped your head." Usually that is enough for a child to calm down and get back to playing, just the acknowledgement of the problem. If they need more support, offer cuddles, water, or words of empathy. When they have calmed down, say "Let's try again." If they need assistance overcoming fear, give it, but always encourage getting up and playing more.
When they do have a fall, don't overreact. Often the adult's reaction scares the child. Wait and give them the space to react, then if they need support you can empathize and encourage.
Your child learns responsibility through practice. Put them in charge of small things, and build upon that responsibility as they age. Taking care of a pet is a great responsibility for children. So is doing their own laundry.
Having responsibility builds resilience, because sometimes you fail in your responsibilities and you have to problem solve or face the consequences of your inaction. Don't use failure as a catalyst for punishment however, failure should be looked upon as an opportunity to learn. "It looks like your laundry is not done. What is your plan for soccer if your uniform is dirty?"