Raising Your Resilient Child
Hello <<First Name>>,
How do you raise a child who can handle the ups and downs of life? Who doesn’t give up or get stuck each time things don’t go his or her way? Being equipped to handle adversities is an important life skill and building the foundation of resilience begins now, when your child is a toddler.
Use a Soft Touch
You may think that building resilience requires a tough love approach. On the other hand, you may think it is achieved by helping your child avoid all upsets. In fact, neither is true. Rather, resilience develops gradually when a child feels they can rely on a trusted adult who cares about them and accepts them, even in their worst moments, such as when they are throwing a tantrum or battling with you. It means being close by and available so they can turn to you when they need to, but not doing everything for them. It means giving love coupled with the space to have hard feelings such as sadness, frustration and anger while letting them know they are not alone in those feelings. I don’t mean to make it sound complicated. Rather, it is in the everyday interactions with your toddler that you provide the guidance and security they need to grow into both confident and resilient children, and before you know it- teens and then young adults.
What You Can Do Today to Build a Confident and Resilient Child:
Step Back. Step in Less: Children like to figure things out and that means giving them the space and time to do so. Step back a bit so that your child can tackle tasks, large or small, on his or her own (while knowing you are there to help if need be). This builds resilience and confidence in a child’s abilities. If she is struggling to put her clothes on, rather than jumping in the moment she asks for a hand, respond by giving her some assistance. You can hold the pant leg in place while she puts her leg in; steady her shoe so she can put her foot in. By doing less and joining with her, your child feels good about her own efforts. Each time you take over and complete a task for your child (because it will always be faster for you to tie his shoes), your child is left feeling deflated, like he cannot do it for herself. To help yours develop a resilient sense of self, give her time to try and figure it out.
At the Toddler Center, I often watch young children struggle to figure out where a puzzle piece fits. I understand the adult inclination to show the child where it goes. But wait! When I see a child try every which way to get the puzzle piece in and finally, it fits, pride and joy spreads across the child’s face. I did it! I figured it out! This inner excitement spurs children on to try other challenges. The next time you feel like stepping in as your little one struggles to finish a puzzle, get their mitten on their hand, or tie a shoe, take a small step back first and see what happens. You could be pleasantly surprised!
Let Them Stumble and Fall. Along with giving your toddler the chance to try things for themselves, we have to accept the ups and downs of ‘trying’. When we avoid labeling a child’s actions as “right” or “wrong,” then children don’t think of mistakes as bad. Building with blocks is a great way to frame mistakes as positive steps forward. Your child thinks- When the blocks fall down, do I walk away? Do I try again to balance the blocks a new way? Do I make something new, or play with something else altogether? All of these are valid options and come from the question of, ‘what do I do next?’ These choice points are the basis of problem solving. The more opportunities your child has to learn that mistakes aren’t “good” or “bad” and are just part of the building process, the more resilient he or she becomes. As I watched a 3-year-old flip her coat over her head to put in on the other day- upside down!- I did not say a word. She beamed with pride at having it on, and later when she noticed it was upside down, she confidently took it off, laid it down, flipped it on again and walked away with pride.
Make Mistakes, Too. You are your child’s role model. When our children think we’re perfect, they fear making their own mistakes or attempting tasks that seem difficult. Show them that you aren’t perfect by making your own mistakes! When the milk you are pouring overflows the cup, make a note of it and then show them how you solved the problem by grabbing a sponge and cleaning it up. My children used to delight in hearing about how I misplaced my keys, eyeglasses and sometimes forgot my lunch until I arrived at work—and then had to rush back home to get it. Neutralize mistakes by allowing your children to make them without being judged or criticized, and let them see you make them, too.
Cut the Praise. It’s a natural instinct to want to praise your child with ‘Good job!’ It makes parents feel good and we convince ourselves that it makes our kids feel good, too. But heavy praise actually works against that foundation of confidence and resilience that you’re hoping to build in your child. Instead, they begin seeking external validation. “Did mommy or daddy see that? Did they like it? Will they praise me for what I just did?” Rather than showering your child with praise, take a step back and let your child discover their own joy and own satisfaction in what they did. You can then join your child and share in the pleasure she is feeling by genuinely smiling right back and acknowledging, “I see what you did!” This recognizes her effort without judgment and without taking away the satisfaction she feels within herself. This is what builds her confidence—sharing in her excitement with you.
Give Choices & Room to Make Decisions. Part of “figuring it out” means making decisions, and you can give your little one opportunities to decide for themselves throughout the day. Offer a choice of toast or cereal, or a blue shirt and a striped shirt: “Which one do you want to wear?” Providing choice allows your child to feel in control, and to make a decision he or she feels good about: “I picked that. That was my decision!” When your child learns that she can trust herself and her own ideas, she builds confidence in her ability to figure it out for herself.
Children learn to handle the ups and downs of life through opportunities to try things out for themselves. And when they know you are there to support them (regardless of the outcome of their attempt); to share in their successes and help when they get frustrated, they are more open to trying for themselves. With the assurance that mistakes are okay and that you love them no matter what, they will be able to develop resilience and confidence by trusting themselves. The foundation starts now. So start making your own mistakes and gain some humor in the process. Finding light in the mishaps will also instill resilience in your child (and you!).
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For more toddler insight, visit HOW TODDLERS THRIVE and feel free to share what you've read here with other parents on the playground!