So, if you want to know why raising a resilient child matters, ask yourself this: Are you planning to live forever? No? Oh, I’m glad we got that out of the way. That’s because if you don’t plan to live forever or, frankly, aren’t able to, that means your children will have to fend for themselves one day. That’s why resilience matters a whole lot—far more than you might originally think. I would place it so high on the list of important aspects of raising your child that it’s right up there with love, shelter, and great bedtime stories.
Why resilience matters
So why is resilience so critical to your children’s well-being? Well, if you want to know why raising a resilient child matters, then let’s start with the term “snowflake,” which was popular a few years ago but now seems to be something that shouldn’t be said. Now, to be fair, not all the people who’ve been cast as “snowflakes” really are, but it’s definitely a growing phenomenon in practical terms, even if we don’t want to recognize it and instead simply refer to it by other means as our collective “mental health.”
Raising a resilient child: You can’t coddle them
Consider your life. I’m sure you’ve encountered some difficulties. Perhaps you had a great support network, or maybe you didn’t, but whatever or whoever you came up against, never simply backed off because you didn’t like it. The taxman or lady didn’t leave you alone because you were upset, or your boss didn’t stop giving you a hard time because it made you uncomfortable. That’s one of the big lessons of life: that problems are there to be faced. Some you will win and some you will lose, but you have to bounce back from both. Unfortunately, many parents believe they should shield their children from real challenges until they’re all grown up and, in their view, ready to deal with them.
But to do that would be a huge mistake because all the skills (and yes, they are skills) that come from experiencing the stuff we consider challenging and uncomfortable are necessary for children to experience and deal with when they are young. How young? Well, that’s where you’ll likely be surprised. Very young. They’re so young that they’re lying on their little tummies on the floor, enjoying tummy time.
Now perhaps you’re saying, “Kids that young?” “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Well, no I’m not. That’s because, as parents, we are often led to believe that children should not even have a modicum of discomfort. It is the origin of the anti-sleep training movement, which is made up of good-hearted people who do not want their child to cry at any cost. Now, I’m not talking about closing the door and leaving them for the night. Having said that, not allowing children to get upset here and there is to deny children the ability to find out that when they do get upset, it isn’t the end of the world, and in the case of experiencing their first good night’s sleep, that they might actually feel better.
Teach them not to give up
But sleep is just the start. Playing an instrument you don’t initially like but have to stick with is uncomfortable and perhaps annoying, but it also teaches a lesson. It’s worth working at something to master it, and you can’t give up just because it’s hard. Whether you end up with a deep, abiding love for the trombone is not the point. That’s why raising a resilient child matters. Resilience is about coping with challenges, and one day, as we’ve agreed, you’ll not be there to help them. To be presented with a problem and to overcome it is to give any child the kind of confidence they will need to triumph in later life and without you.
By not allowing a child to experience hardship of any kind, you are stunting that ability forever. Resilience is like a muscle. Use it, and it gets better and more elastic, and soon you can bounce back from all sorts of things that many others can’t. When baby is trying to reach for something and is having difficulty, hang back for just long enough to let them get a little uncomfortable. From there, they may try other ways of getting what they want, or they may forget about it and decide to try something else. In other words, they start to use the resources available to them. If they get horribly frustrated, it’s time to help them, but the best thing to do is to give them time to see if they can fix things themselves.
Why raising a resilient child matters: Try really hard not to hover
For most parents, grounding their personal hovering helicopter is one of their biggest challenges. It’s so easy to go for safety and reduce or eliminate children’s exposure to things that have the possibility of bringing danger or discomfort with them. Let’s not allow these children to walk to school because they might be abducted, and so it goes. It’s normal for parents to feel worried, maybe absolutely freaked out at times, but it’s also very necessary that we don’t show it, whether that’s allowing them to go to their neighbour’s house unaided for the first time and taking a deep breath while they do or taking their first bus ride alone.
I recall taking my two older sons kayaking on a large lake in British Columbia.As far as I can remember, they were about 15 and 17 at the time, and they were going to kayak up the river in a double kayak, spend the night on the far side of the lake, hike the mountain the next day, and come back down. They had walkie-talkies, and I was able to hear they’d made the 7-kilometer trip down the lake when they called me that night in the only place they had reception. However, it was October in the mountains, and it was the wilderness. There were bears and other hazards, and I was scared to death. There was even snow at the higher elevations. I stood up most of the night in our B&B, staring out at the mountains, absolutely terrified. I knew they were competent kayakers and hikers. They were well prepared, had emergency supplies on them, and had had adventures before, but it didn’t make any difference to me, and it was one of the hardest nights of my life. As it turned out, they were fine and had a great time, and when we picked them up, confidence exuded from their every pore. I never let on how terrified I’d been, and that was just as well, as they felt great, and I realized then that the accomplishment and feelings that it generated in them were well worth my pain.
Challenges feel good
Resilience requires challenges, and challenges are hard and unpredictable. There really is no way around it. That’s the nature of a real challenge, and it’s facing that difficulty that gives the child the all-important feeling that they can do it. Not because you told them they could, but because they really could, and they proved it. One day, you won’t be there, and they’ll have to face whatever they face without you. You can teach them now to cope with and triumph over adversity, or you can teach them that they should run, hide, or be bowled over by every one of life’s hazards by denying them the confidence they need to face those challenges. That’s why raising a resilient child matters. It’s up to you.
Are you a “My kids are my everything parent?”
Did you know that Annie the Nanny was on CTV for years. Here she is talking about how to stop toddlers from spilling food all over the floor.
Would you like to know about how to instill gratitude in your children, how teaching gratitude makes for happy kids.
More articles on this subject? Here are some other articles on resilience. “A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience.” or “How to Build Climate Change Resilience in Children.”