Last post was on how to ruin your child, but some people do most of those and still have decent children. How the heck is that happening?
Resiliency. The ability to come through tough times with your better self intact and growing. Some children seem to have a natural store of this, while others can get to this state with help and training. So here are 10 ways to help any child withstand and thrive in their circumstances.
- Compliment specifically and describe actions not attributes. Children think that pretty and smart are states of being that can’t be affected by their own actions. Complimenting them on these doesn’t leave the child feeling empowered. Make positive comments about actions children take. This will point out to them how they change their own circumstances for the better. When people feel powerless they get depressed, lazy, unmotivated, selfish, and scared. Compliments about actions can be a protective layer against all the bad that feeling powerless can bring. You can give a child that protective layer! Make sure your compliments are about verbs not nouns or adjectives. “I loved that you tried so hard!” “Wow, you kicked that ball at the goal!” Stay away from compliments that start with “You are…” Those are attributes that children will usually see as unchangeable.
- Ask questions and listen to the answers. This works with any age child. In my practice as a play therapist I shock parents all the time. I tell them simple things their children have said and people sit back in stunned silence before saying, “She’s never said that before!” No, she hasn’t, but she never felt that anyone had the time to listen. Some children will not tell you the important things until you have spent several hours listening to their stories about the latest transformer cartoon they saw. When children communicate with you they are looking for how you listen. If you are waiting for the “important stuff” to actually start hearing the words, you will never hear anything important until it is too late. Try this in small increments. Spend at least 10 minutes listening to your child and commenting on what they’re saying without any statements of judgement or morals of the story. Do that several times a week. That child will tell you something surprising by the 3rd week, maybe sooner. I have yet to meet the teen who really won’t talk. They just need to talk about things you don’t find important, so they’ll know if you find them important. Once they’ve figured that out, they spill their guts.
- Spend time. Kids of all ages are used to being shuttled and cared for but the ones I’m meeting still crave time. I see adults who don’t know how to let the kid pick the agenda and still remain in control of the situation. When you know that you are the one in charge of safety and discipline, you can let go of the agenda control for a few hours and everyone will still be OK. Occasionally let a child set the pace and pick the activity. Go to the park. Walk slower. Look at the bug on the flower. Watch really stupid Disney TV with your tween and listen to how cool it is. Look for the perfect shoes for the all important first day of school (without sighing and looking like you desperately wish to be elsewhere). Do this in lengths of time that you can manage and you’ll discover that it’s actually fun. Children have a different time frame than we do and the world is still fresh to them. Enjoy it, you’re relationship will improve and the child’s sense of well being will blossom.
- Praise hard work and make positive comments about perseverance. Luck tends to happen more to the people who give it more chances to happen. That comes about by hard work, multiple tries, perseverance. If you want a child to succeed against the odds, praise every time he goes against the odds. Being smart will not guarantee success. But put the brains together with a good work ethic, and that kid is going to go places. Know the value of your own hard work, say positive things about people that work hard, let your child know that work is good by your own attitude towards it.
- Give children jobs and insist they finish them. It’s nice to talk about hard work, but if you’re actually going to compliment their actions, the kids have to have a chance to do the job. They will not see this as a good thing. You will hear whining, complaining, mouthing off, “You only had me for the free labor!” Smile serenely and insist the job gets done. Withhold the resources the child wants until the job gets done. You don’t get paid for laying there, why should you teach your child that rewards come without effort? You are NOT doing them a favor if you give money and rewards unconnected to hard work. This is basically the same principal of empowerment. What the child can change and feel control over, will be a protection against depression and negativity. If a child realizes, “I can make good things happen for myself by my own effort.”, that child will be less likely to feel powerless and depressed. Put children in a situation where they must work to get what they want. This teaches them the power of their own actions and immunizes them against depression.
- Show gratitude in your own life and point out good things that come from bad breaks. When you notice the good in your own life, your brain goes looking for more. You prime yourself to find opportunities out of stresses, and you give yourself a cushion emotionally during bad times. Do that when the little people are watching and they’ll be able to do the same things. When kids around you say the negatives constantly, they are crying out for some guidance. Ask them to stop, take a breath, and notice something good around them. Don’t give them the moral of the story, don’t stop the rest of the whine down, just keep interjecting the new skill and showing your own command of it.
- Teach the difference between responsibility and guilt. You are 100% responsible for your own life. You’ve been that way since other people stopped paying for you and making all your problems go away. Children will someday be 100% responsible, unless they’re constantly fighting the universe on this one yelling, “It’s not my fault!” No, the guy who ran the red light and crashed your car is not your fault. But he’s also not around to rehab your injuries, pay your bills, and make the situation better for you. Guilt is irrelevant to your future. Guilt is all about the past. Teach kids to look towards the future and solve the problem for themselves. Who created it is only important when you’re picking friends and figuring out who to stay away from.
- Encourage failure. I am appalled at the number of bright, talented kids that show up in therapy due to their overwhelming anxiety and fear. They are terrified of failure, won’t try anything new, won’t plan for the future, and often look for escapes in drugs, alcohol, and stupid behavior. Failure is a fact of life that children will see as a hiccup or a complete breakdown, depending on your reaction to it. How do you handle failure in your own life? Your kids are watching. Let children fail and encourage them to go for it! When you help them avoid failure at all costs, you are teaching them that failure will kill them. They’ll stay safely cocooned in the basement smoking pot to kill any motivation with that belief. Teach them that trying and failing are GOOD. Failure is how we learn. Failure is where we consider and grow. Failure is how we get better.
- Point out upcoming consequences and then get out of the way! You know your child is heading towards an all-nighter and a bad grade in science. Do you, A) Step in and make an award winning science project for them, or B) Tell you child that there isn’t a lot of time left and it will probably mean a bad grade if they don’t get started. If you said A, you are enabling bad behavior that will haunt that kid for the rest of her life. Point out the consequence in a calm tone of voice with no judgement attached. Walk away. Keep doing this until the child hits the wall they’ve been running for. Ask them what they intend to do differently next time. Repeat.
- Use consequences not anger. Sometimes your child won’t have a natural consequence for his bad behavior. You then have to decide what a logical consequence is and apply it. Screaming, yelling, throwing things, withholding acceptance, silent treatment, and sulking are NOT logical consequences to a child’s behavior. They ARE a child’s behavior. If you use your emotions instead of consequences, your child won’t learn to make the connection between actions and consequences. They may also be left more susceptible to emotional blackmail in later relationships. Let children feel consequences, not your emotional need to avoid those.
There are plenty more ways to encourage resiliency in children. These are just some of the easiest. It’s a great topic to do some research on and then incorporate into your interaction with children. It’s also, never to late to start these interventions. It can be harder if you start later, but it’s still worthwhile. Good luck and go get started!
Picture by jaci XIII from flickr, some rights reserved.