Three simple steps for raising kids who can cope
The other day I watched my daughter attempt a jigsaw puzzle, her little lips pursing in concentration as she tried piece after piece.
She's three so we're fully in ‘do it by myself' territory.
I could see frustration building as she struggled to find the fit she wanted. Knowing that any support would likely be rebuffed I considered my options.
I've been thinking a lot more about the help I offer my daughter because the topic of resilience has been on my mind.
I'm seeking to raise a child who can cope with the challenges of life.
Who can persevere when things get tough and not crumble at the first hurdle.
This logical thinking is at odds with my maternal desire to help her out and fix things for her.
So, I'm working on finding a balance. Just the right amount of support to keep her doing it by herself.
This involves an almost physical need for restraint as I watch her struggle with the daily business of shoes, lids and toothpaste.
What I discovered?
If I held back and waited, she kept trying.
More than that, the joy on her face when she succeeded made the frustrating wait all worthwhile.
It's not just about physical tasks though.
Susan David, Harvard psychologist, describes one of the biggest assets we can help our children to develop is the ability to be emotionally agile.
In coaching and working with hundreds of people she discovered an unhelpful pattern.
The persistent idea that some emotions are 'bad' and others are 'good'.
This, coupled with a natural human urge to avoid the more challenging feelings, led to a kind of collective 'head in the sand' mentality. People were working so hard not to feel sad, frustrated, disappointed or angry that they lived in an increasingly smaller and smaller world.
One that didn't bring them the fulfilment that they sought.
Notions of 'good' and 'bad' emotions are unhelpful in our increasingly complex and uncertain world.
Often when we see our child struggle with a difficult emotion like frustration, sadness or anger it triggers a strong response in us.
It's uncomfortable to see someone we love in pain and it reminds us of our own unfixed pain. In an attempt to feel back in control we rush to find a solution.
We jump in to help at the first opportunity.
We end crying with promises of treats and shut down anger with threats of punishments.
We give the message that some emotions are more valid or welcome than others.
'Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life'
It's impossible to have a meaningful life without disappointment, fear and anger.
Our children need to know that those emotions are just part of the package. Just as valid as feeling loved, excited or happy.
That these emotions will come and go in response to the world around us and if we're smart enough to pay attention and listen to them? They might just tell us something about the path we're on and the steps we wish to take.
if you're interested in learning more about how to actually take steps to develop emotional agility for both you and your child check out Susan Davis’s excellent book, Emotional Agility.
Does that mean that it's okay for your child to behave however they want when they're angry?
Of course not - it's our job to teach our children to express these emotions in a healthy way which might mean taking an uncomfortable look in the mirror.
How do you respond when angry?
What does being sad look like for you?
Are you able to express these emotions in a healthy way or do you look for the quick fix?
I'm not judging - I can be the first to reach for a slice of cake when I'm feeling fed up!
But I'm working on being able to reflect a little more. Being able to stop and find some clarity around where the uncomfortable feeling really comes from.
And when it comes to my daughter?
I've found that there are three simple actions that make all the difference.
Hold back. Listen. Observe.
Let your child discover their own solution to a problem, whether it's a three-year-old's jigsaw or ten-year-old’s social dilemma.
Show your children what you NOT getting it right looks like.
Laugh at your mistakes.
Make failure a normal part of life - just something that happens like scraped knees and wobbly teeth.
Be a household in which all feelings are valid. Let your children be angry or sad.
Talk to them about how feelings are normal. (**We have a parent-child workbook in our Library designed to help you do just that**)
Let yourself be angry or sad and even communicate that to your children in an age-appropriate way.
Have boundaries for behaviours but never for feelings.
Are any of these things easy?
They take an ability to step back from a situation and untangle your feelings from those of your child's. This is at the heart of mindful and purposeful parenting.
I watched my daughter do the jigsaw, hid a smile at her overdramatic sighs and waited.
As she put in the last piece she beamed up at me in satisfaction.
Totally worth it.