By Lisa Phillips
May 16, 2019

"Love the child you have, not the one you thought you’d have."

A child’s resilience to disappointments isn’t always a personality trait. Sometimes, it needs to be nurtured and encouraged.

This past spring, tales of a college-entrance cheating scandal exploded in the media. Famous and wealthy families spent large amounts of money on schemes to change test scores, falsify athletic accomplishments, and bribe college coaches.

The saga is so fascinating, not only because of what it reveals about college admissions, but because it’s not hard to imagine a parent’s motivation behind wanting to give their children whatever advantages they can in the world.

Apparently, some of these college-bound teenagers were unaware of what their parents were up to. What must it feel like to find out that your mom or dad had such little faith in both your ability to navigate the admission process and to cope with disappointment?

While most of us would not condone the actions of the parents in this particular scenario, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to draw the line in terms of how much help parents should give their children. Certainly, parents want to support their child's growth and development, but too much assistance can actually hinder it.

Resilience, the ability to “bounce back” and to cope with life’s setbacks and challenges is perhaps the greatest gift we can teach our children. But it’s one that money, privilege, and overindulgence may actually inhibit.

How to foster resiliency:

  • Promoting age-appropriate independence
    Sometimes, parents get in the habit of doing things for our children because it’s simply faster and easier to do it themselves. But even preschoolers can often do a bit more than we think they can (just ask their teachers). Try and resist the urge to take care of what he can take care of himself, like re-doing an imperfectly-done chore. Chores are important ways for young children to feel competent and confident, and for older children to see themselves as contributors to the family, not just consumers of their parents’ services.
  • Developing self-control
    Children aren’t born with the ability to manage strong emotions and focus attention. Brain development, temperament, and certain neurological conditions can have an effect. But from an early age, parents can make sure that basic needs are met so that self-regulation skills can take root. Encourage persistence when they face obstacles by giving support without taking over. Finally, help them learn simple self-calming strategies such as deep breathing and positive self-talk that they can use throughout the rest of their life.
  • Mistakes are learning experiences
    How do you handle your own mistakes and the mistakes of others? Do they always seem like catastrophes or opportunities for learning, and which are you modeling to your child? Do you allow your child to experience consequences, or do you constantly run interference? This last one is often the hardest one for parents, but is an important piece of the raising-resilient-children puzzle. Children should be held accountable for their actions — insist that he make amends when he has wronged someone. If done in a kind but firm manner, this step encourages empathy for others and teaches that relationships can be repaired.
  • Positive role model
    Children learn more from what their parents do than what they say. Parents just simply can’t expect children to be better than themselves if they don’t put in the work. Taking responsibility for our own feelings and actions, showing compassion and empathy, and living the values we hope our children will emulate everyday will show them what a positive role model looks like.
  • Love the child you have, not the one you thought you’d have
    All parents have hopes and dreams for their children, but sometimes these aren’t the ones that are right for a particular child. Have high expectations, but don’t lose sight of your child’s unique strengths and qualities that may be very different from your own.

Check out other Parenting Corner topics.

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