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June 26

4 Tips for Raising Resilient Children

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My daughter starts kindergarten in the fall and the school recently sent out some expectations for skills that she should have or should maybe work on. Using scissors was one of them and I realized how I have probably stunted her ability to use scissors because of my own anxiety around it. She's had many projects in Pre-K where she could have practiced but, without thinking, I would just take the scissors and do that part for her. There are a million other things that feel just easier to do myself, especially when we are trying to get out the door, but I see more and more how important it is to foster independence and problem-solving with everyday tasks.

Here are some tips to support building resilience and independence in your child. 

1. Encourage problem-solving

It's easy to want to jump in with all the answers, but let your children brainstorm solutions, no matter how silly. I have a five-year-old and a two-year-old and although they are actually pretty good friends, they of course fight a fair amount. I used to jump in immediately if they were fighting over a toy but two seconds later, they would start to fight over another toy. Instead, I have started to observe and narrate what is going on. I'll say "It seems like you both want to play with the blocks, what do you think we should do?" Usually, my five-year-old is the only one that comes up with solutions but my two-year-old is getting better at it too. I let him say that he wants his sister to go in a spaceship, explain that while that would solve the problem, we can't do that, and then help him come up with something else. It took a long time to get to this point and there is still a lot of throwing of toys and tantrums but, when they are able to problem-solve, they are more likely to continue that mindset throughout the day. 

Notice places where you maybe jump in quickly to solve a problem and see if you can step back some. This doesn't mean you let your children make all of the decisions, children still need rules and structure from adults, but giving them space to brainstorm can be very powerful. 

2. Foster a Growth Mindset

Encourage children to see how mistakes can help them learn. My daughter hates making mistakes. She will come home from school feeling crushed because out of ten times of practicing writing her name, she messed up one of them. I've really been trying to work on fostering a growth mindset with her and showcasing how making mistakes is a really wonderful way to learn and get even better. When she does something well, I try to use language like "Wow, you must have practiced to make your letters look so good!" 

Creating curiosity around why things don't work is also a great way to encourage a growth mindset. My kids love to build ramps for their cars and often times those ramps don't quite launch the car the way they had hoped. Before the screaming and tantrums start, I try to simply just ask "I wonder why the car didn't go the way you want?" This encourages them to experiment and try again. A great TV show, if you have toddlers, that encourages this thinking is Mecha Builders (made by Sesame Steet). 

3. Encourage Independence

Allow your children to take on age-appropriate risks and responsibilities. This is where I definitely struggle as an anxious mom and it becomes very obvious when we go to the park. I will see kids doing all sorts of climbing and stunts on the playground while my kids stick to safer activities. Kids learn to be careful by taking small risks. When babies are learning to walk, they learn to not fall by understanding what causes falling. Allowing your kids to take risks is scary, they will inevitably get hurt as they learn. But they will also learn what their bodies are capable of and not capable of which is the best outcome. 

My son has learned how to jump off the small step on our back deck. I used to always catch him but one day he wanted to do it by himself from one of the higher parts. I let him, knowing he might skin a knee but would ultimately be okay, and he jumped. He did in fact hurt his knee but got right back up and decided to try at a lower part. I did not make a big deal or say "See I told you it was too high!" I just narrated what happened, "You fell and hurt your knee". He has been practicing his jumping from the lower part and now knows how to land in a way to keep his body safe. I am sure he will be attempting the higher part soon when he knows he is ready, and I will cheer him on (while also probably holding my breath).  

4. Create a Supportive Environment

Showcase unconditional love and support, even when your children make mistakes. We all make countless mistakes every day. As adults, we can usually get away with people not noticing or commenting on them. But for children, it can be hard if a parent is constantly telling them everything they did wrong. This shuts down your child's ability to feel safe telling you about mistakes (which we REALLY want them to do, especially as teens) and hurts their ability to learn. 

I think one of the biggest reasons children learn language so quickly and easily, is that they are not concerned about making mistakes. Adults (hopefully) aren't mad when a baby says "blue-ies" instead of "blueberries." We often think it's cute and we might repeat back the correct word to them, but usually children aren't shamed for trying out new words. This support and unconditional love helps build confidence and increases your child's ability to try new things. 

A disclaimer, none of us are perfect all of the time! We are not always going to respond to our kids the "right" way. And that is totally okay. Even just noticing where we might be struggling so that we can make small changes is a huge step. I know I struggle with all of these areas (especially if I am trying to get them out of door!) so be kind to yourself.

Anne Rice, LPC, LMHC, CPCS

About the author

Anne is a licensed therapist in both New York and Georgia. She is the owner of Firefly Wellness Counseling located in the Atlanta area. Her team works with all members of the family struggling with anxiety, depression, and big life changes. Anne loves helping adults and teens navigate life's difficulties by creating a comfortable and safe place to share anything and everything that is on their minds. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology at Princeton University and her graduate degree in Counseling Psychology from Boston College.


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