“No matter how much we might want our kids to be resilient, they don’t become that way automatically. Just as we have to teach children to be respectful, we also have to teach them to be resilient.”
– Educational specialist David Walsh (2007, p.70)
Every loving parent wants what’s best for their child. We want their lives to be filled with as much happiness and success as possible. And we put a lot of effort towards this goal. We pour money into parenting books, Baby Einstein videos, and other educational products. We fuss about them attending the best quality schools and receiving the highest education. We save for college funds and shuttle them around to afterschool activities. But what in your parenting teaches children the attitudes necessary to foster resilience?
For many parents, the answer to this question is: not much. In fact, some of the very things that are most harmful to a child’s long-term resiliency have become common practice throughout society. Too many parents try to help their children avoid pain altogether rather than helping them learn to effectively deal with the pain that comes along. They try to manage life for their children rather than helping them manage it on their own. They may try to pump up a child’s self-esteem artificially rather than nurturing a competence that comes naturally through hard work, trial, and especially error. Many parents spend a lot of time elevating the emotional significance of certain things in a child’s mind, creating negative energy that turns what might otherwise be a minor setback into a life-debilitating event. Others confuse their own interests for those of their kids, pushing their children in a certain direction according to their own unfulfilled desires. There are parents who do all they can to impede exploration and growth so as to try and keep children in an ignorant, babyish state; an imagined “innocence” that protects a parent’s idealized views of what childhood should be while getting in the way of natural development.
Then there are those parents who take the opposite approach, trying to toughen children up in all the wrong ways. They withhold affection or are reluctant to express love because they don’t want a child becoming “too soft.” In reality, plenty of nurturing has precisely the opposite effect. Or they might train children to suppress their emotions by scolding them with admonitions such as “big boys and girls don’t cry,” thinking that this will result in a child who is tough. In reality, all this does is develop a falsely tough exterior; a thin coating of bravado covering a vulnerable emotional mess that resides just underneath.
Patterns for dealing with life are being established all throughout childhood, and these patterns will form the conditioned responses that children revert to later on. This is why it’s important for parents to accurately understand what does and does not nurture resilience in their children. Whereas there are a number of things parents do that can make children more vulnerable and less equipped to handle adversity, the good news is that there are a number of things parents can do in raising their children that will promote resiliency.
Next we will explore what different parenting approaches tend to produce resilient kids, and which parenting styles can hinder resiliency, leading to less competent kids who are ill-equipped to handle life.