Tips on raising resilient children

How can you raise resilient children - so they can deal with setbacks and disappointment in life? So asks EIMEAR HUTCHINSON, mum of four, in her weekly column
Tips on raising resilient children

PARENTING DIFFERENTLY: When many of us were younger, our parents let us wander out for the day - and many returned in the evening for dinner. It’s something many of today’s parents wouldn’t consider allowing their child to do. Picture: Stock

I HAD coffee with two friends recently, one of whom is a nurse, the other a guard, both parents to small children like myself.

As you can imagine, when we speak about their line of work the conversation is, more often than not, sad. Last week one line of conversation led to us discussing children and resilience, not the lightest of conversation but actually very important.

How do we go about raising our children so they are able to deal with setbacks and disappointment in life and are able to come out the other side of such experiences with a largely positive attitude?

We all know we parent differently to how our parents raised us – there is a lot less freedom and room to roam nowadays. I remember when we were young we used to hit off down the road to play in a stream about half a kilometre from home, we might reappear around lunchtime when we got hungry, but were gone again until dark. I can’t imagine many parents allowing their primary aged children to spend the day unsupervised around water, but it was completely normal back then.

Over time, our sense of fear about the world has grown and we have become nervous about letting our young children out of our sights, without an adult having some level of responsivity for them.

With freedom comes learning – left to your own devices you must navigate social situations like fights, disagreements and the subsequent making up and getting over it that goes with it on your own, to a certain degree.

These days (in my experience anyway, and I don’t consider myself a helicopter parent!) we are seldom far from our children; young kids that have a disagreement in the park, playground or on the playing field are rarely far from a parent or teacher willing to step in and coax out a positive solution.

For children to learn how to be resilient, we have to be involved in the teaching, there is no doubt about that, so stepping in to soothe out conflict is not wrong. 

But often children don’t learn from the from the heat of the moment exchanges, and as they get older those conflicts can run deeper, so it’s important we make a conscious effort to teach them the steps and skills to mange and soothe conflict for themselves.

I’m not saying we are the perfect parents, but I am happy with how we help the girls navigate upset or let-down as it has presented itself throughout the years. It probably goes without saying that we start by letting them talk and always make sure to validate their feelings.

You have to let them feel the way they feel, whether we as adults think it is right, wrong or just plain silly it’s not for us to decide.

By letting our children experience hurt, disappointment and frustration alongside happiness and laughter we are raising them to be self-aware, they must learn to navigate all the emotions, not just the happy ones.

After that, we move on to trying to let go of the feeling of disappointment by working together to find a positive focus, for example, they might be feeling left out by one friend, but they often have plenty more amazing friends to focus on that serve as a reminder that in the greater scheme of things there is more good than bad in life.

Usually, the last step is to help them figure out a way to respond to the problem. It might be that they want to speak to the person involved the next day, or it might be that it’s best to step back from the person involved for a little bit, let their gut feeling decide.

Of course, it is every parent’s first instinct to want to rush in and fix the situation, but we need to give our children the opportunity to do so first. If they have a problem with a friend or a teacher, give them the chance to chat it through with that person first if they choose to.

Some days I want to hide my four girls away from the harsh realities of the big bad world, but I can’t do that unfortunately. What I can do is help them to become strong and resilient individuals.

We don’t know what the world will look like when our now small children head off out into the world, to college and beyond, but I know I will sleep a lot more easy if I feel like my girls will have the power to deal with whatever life throws at them. I can only hope that we will help them become strong and confident enough to deal with upset when it comes their way, or at least to ask for help if they need it.

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