Behavior & Discipline

The One Thing You Should Do to Raise Resilient Kids, According to a Psychologist

written by JACLYN VORAN
Source: @occasions.byshakira
Source: @occasions.byshakira

Of all the things I want to teach my kids, resilience is at the top of the list. Growing up has always been hard, but it seems even harder in today’s fast-paced, competitive-sports-from-a-young-age, social-media-fueled world.

So, how can I parent in such a way that my kids are ready for it, mentally? This is what I asked Nina Kaiser, Ph.D., licensed psychologist and mom of two who founded Practice San Francisco, a wellness center that helps kids of all ages manage stress and anxiety.

What’s the one thing she would tell parents to do if they were to do nothing else? I asked. Her answer was simple: don’t clear the path for them; let them experience challenges. In short, let them struggle.

Watching our kids struggle is not easy. It goes against our every instinct as moms. We are their protectors and their mama bears, ready to take on the world for them. But if we want to raise resilient kids, we have to let them learn to take on the world for themselves. We have to get comfortable with allowing them to struggle, to fail, to fall down and pick themselves back up.


What’s the one thing she would tell parents to do if they were to do nothing else? I asked. Her answer was simple: don’t clear the path for them; let them experience challenges. In short, let them struggle.


Yes, we can provide a listening ear and tips, tools, and advice (more on that later), but Kaiser recommended that instead of clearing obstacles from our kids’ paths, we leave the obstacles where they are and help our kids learn how to cope.

As parents, this means getting comfortable and coping with our own unease and anxiety around watching our kids figure it out for themselves. It means not always looking for ways to make things easier. It means sitting back and watching our kids navigate through situations on their own, carefully choosing when and how we intervene.

“The experience of struggling allows them to build resilience, the ability to cope, and the inner resources to fall back on,” Kaiser said. And we can start practicing this from the time they are babies.

Read on for practical tips for building resilience in kids of any age.


Source: @xomyhome via #sharetheeverymom


For Babies

Obviously, babies need our gentle, loving care and support. This isn’t about putting them in challenging situations or setting them up for failure or frustration, but about helping them learn about and navigate their surroundings with minimal interference from us. It’s about encouraging them and empowering them to do things for themselves.

  • Provide an opportunity to explore independently by creating a safe space. Trust them to decide what and how they want to explore within their safe space.
  • Don’t interfere. Give them a chance to develop their own skills by interacting with objects on their own terms. It’s tempting to take the spoon away when you know the yogurt is about to fall off, but let them learn that their way.
  • Allow them to do things for themselves. For example, if a ball rolls away from them, let them reach for it or crawl for it instead of bringing it right back to them.


For Younger Kids

Moments of frustration become more and more common as kids move into toddlerhood and beyond. As they learn to master new skills, they will get it wrong many times before getting it right. Expect tantrums and understand that they are part of normal cognitive development.

  • Be patient and don’t swoop in to help immediately. Maybe your toddler is learning how to put their shoes on. “As a parent, it can be really tempting to do it for them, especially if you’re late, and it’s taking forever,” Kaiser said. “But letting your kid do it and figure it out for themselves not only develops that skill [of putting shoes on], but also develops frustration tolerance and perseverance.”
  • Focus praise on the effort instead of the outcome. Let’s say after struggling to put their shoes on, your toddler finally gets it. It’s our natural inclination to say, “Yay! You did it!” Instead of focusing praise on the fact that they were successful, focus it on the fact that they persevered. “Wow, you got frustrated, but you kept going and you got it!”
  • Show them you believe in them and provide encouragement. When faced with a new challenge, a child might say something like “I can’t do it” or “I can’t get it.” Add the word “yet” to the end of that sentence. “You can’t do it … yet. You can’t get it … yet.” With her own 4-year-old, Kaiser said she sometimes asks, “What else can you try? What else could you do to make that work?”


Source: @dana_s_shlomo via #sharetheeverymom


For Older Kids

The older kids get, the more you can do collaborative problem-solving and practice using coping skills when things aren’t going as planned.

  • Model the behavior you want to see from them. Kaiser suggested narrating a situation when you’re feeling frustrated to help your child understand how you process through it. “I’m starting to feel really frustrated. I’m going to take a deep breath and step away from this for a moment.”
  • Set the framework that mistakes and challenges are to be expected. “We want to send the message that everybody makes mistakes and making mistakes is not a big deal,” Kaiser said. And in the event that your child actually does something wrong that needs to be addressed? “Talk about it and how things can unfold differently the next time–whether it’s behavior, academics, or other sorts of achievements–everybody makes mistakes.” Problem-solve together for better ways to handle the situation in the future.
  • Remain calm yourself. “The bigger deal we make of something or emotionally load it, the more likely a kid is to try to hide it down the road or be embarrassed by it,” Kaiser said.


Throughout it all, sending the message that challenges are normal is key. “Struggle is not a failure, but a part of life and the journey. You don’t get that message if you don’t ever struggle,” Kaiser said.


Struggle is not a failure, but a part of life and the journey. You don’t get that message if you don’t ever struggle.


But how do we know what’s a normal and healthy reaction to struggling and what’s an indication of something more? “Watch to see the degree in which something is getting in their way,” Kaiser said. “Is this interfering with how they’re living their life or how your family is operating on a day-to-day basis?” If so, it may be time to seek expert help.

If you’re concerned, Kaiser suggested seeking feedback from your child’s teacher or pediatrician to help identify if what’s happening is developmentally appropriate. Is this what they’d expect from most kids in this age range? If not, consider working with experts to find solutions that work for the whole family.

This post was originally published at an earlier date and has been updated for timeliness.

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