The Attitude Doc- Happiness/Women's Issues Articles

A resilient child becomes an adaptable, happy adult.  Life demands that we adapt to change or struggle in our efforts to cope with depression, get back up when we fall, even adjust to a new home if we have to move. A key to loving relationships, substance abuse prevention, career success, and character development, resiliency is one of the best character traits we can teach our children.

Have you ever watched trees in a big windstorm? Some of them barely move, like a big Douglas Fir. Still others sway under the pressure of the wind and can be seen bending to a near ninety-degree angle, like the Aspen or the Willow. If the wind gets too strong, which of these do you think will survive the storm without snapping? Resiliency is all about how we weather the storms of life, adapt to change, flex and bounce back after a fall, and cope with fluctuations in the journey of life.

Children who develop the ability to adapt to changes in life are, simply put, stronger children who will grow into adults with the ability to bend and flex with the conditions of life regardless of how challenging. Children who do not learn the character trait of resiliency will have a difficult time adapting throughout their lives. But how can we teach our children to become resilient rather than rigid individuals? How can we show them the merit of adapting and coping with challenges and change? To begin this journey, children need to explore their feelings, learn to express them and be given the tools of experience through self-responsibility to learn to become resilient.  Consider introducing your youngest children to feelings exploration by reading to them daily and encouraging them to interact with you regarding their feelings.

What do feelings have to do with resiliency? Everything!  In order to become resilient and to be able to bounce back after difficulties, we have to be able to understand how we feel about the experience. Having the ability to clearly assess our feelings and move beyond fear and immobility is crucial to adapting and coping. When we explore our feelings and learn to communicate them, we also begin to take responsibility for how we feel. Kids who can talk about their feelings openly and honestly have discovered that feelings aren’t terrible territory. They are part of life. We each have feelings as an aspect of being human, and learning about them makes it far easier to own our own feelings without fear. When a child can say “I feel angry about what you just said to me,” without resorting to an attack on a friend or sibling, that is a huge milestone in his/her development. At this point, the child has explored the feeling, claimed it as her own, and taken the risk to express it honestly–the perfect start to self-responsibility.

How easy is it for you to express your desires when you visit a foreign country and can’t speak the language? For similar reasons, your child needs the words to share his/her feelings. Your child will begin to use words through the expansion of a feelings word vocabulary, to express him/herself in lieu of acting out of frustration. You will witness a significant difference in your family dynamics when each member learns to identify and communicate feelings, which will lead to inner strength to endure life’s challenges. Nothing short of a miracle will occur.

Exposing our children to diverse circumstances, and stimuli as babies is important. As simple as it may sound, if a child is raised in a too quiet environment, he will have difficulty in a noisy one.  We’ve all known the parent who brings a baby home from the hospital and quietly asks everyone to leave the house so she can put the baby down. The baby is put in a separate room, entirely cut off from the rest of the house, and kept as quiet as possible to sleep undisturbed. I feel sorry for the parent who will travel and take the child to environments where there is no way to escape noise! The baby will have an extremely difficult time in adapting to that change. Expose your child early to the sights and sounds of the world, and the shock of it all won’t overwhelm her. Baby’s love stimuli; it’s what makes them curious and encourages their mental progress. Take your baby to the park, put a cradle in the living room, visit with your friends with the child in the same room.  Your baby will learn to sleep with sounds all around and enjoy adapting to her new world. Of course there are times when you want to put your child in his or her own room, but the point is, expose them to diverse environments early on.

As children begin to grow, allowing them to investigate life freely is another way we can encourage resiliency. Children crawl, then walk, and all along the path they tend to get bumps and bruises. When your child gets a scrape are you the first one on the scene to pick him up, sooth and coddle him? Let your child begin making decisions about how the incident made him/her feel without stepping up and insisting they feel the way you do. As soon as you say, “Oh sweetheart, did that hurt?” it begins to hurt like heck and your child will likely cry as a result. What if you said, “Wow, that was a huge leap you just accomplished,” with a smile on your face? How do you suppose your children would act if you didn’t encourage their pain? Again, your child becomes resilient through experience. We can’t run to the aid of our children on every issue or they will not adapt to this challenging life.

Give your children responsibilities and challenges and let them accept the rewards and repercussions that come their way as a result. Have you signed your child up for sports yet this year? This is a great opportunity for them to learn hundreds of life skills, and it will have its challenges for you too. It can be difficult to watch our children interact with their peers, and it can be compounded further on a soccer field or basketball court.  We have to remind ourselves that not all children have the same abilities, desires, or willingness to “play the game.” Stand back from it all and let your child go through the hoops required to adapt to organized play. The coach is there for a reason, and unless you are a parent volunteer, stay out of the game.  There is always the chance your child won’t make the best team, or the team he or she had hoped to be on. Please, please, don’t go to the coach and ask for special consideration.  This is all a process for your child to learn resiliency and for you to let your child learn what life has to offer. Don’t be the mom or dad caught schmoozing the coach to make it better for your child. Eventually, your children will see that behavior for what it is and have resentments for it. Eventually the lesson they could have learned by winding up on the less skilled team will be presented again in your child’s life. How will he or she act the next time when you aren’t around to fix it for them? Trust your child to adapt to the circumstances in which they find themselves, and if they need help, let them know you’ll be there.

Your children can be encouraged to grow into resilient adults or learn to believe they will fail without you. Expose your child to the varied sounds, sights and experiences available.  Let them know you are behind them all the way, but then, send them off to explore in the world, to fall and get back up, to wind up on the winning and the losing team, to make new friends and lose them, etc. It won’t be long and your child will be demonstrating the lesson they have learned by demonstrating resiliency in all they do. Teach them to bend like the Willow to the circumstances they come up against in life, rather than standing firm and unyielding. Their lives will be better for it in dozens of ways, including:

  • Self-responsibility rather than a “victim” mentality
  • Strong peer relationships
  • The ability to say no to substance abuse
  • Better academic focus and ability
  • A happier life!

One last note about resiliency and a happier life: life is loaded with challenges, heartbreaks, nicks, scrapes and worse. If we can learn to grow with each challenge rather than succumbing to it; if we can view life as a challenge we can meet, rather than take a defeatist attitude, and if we can learn that one of the primary reasons we are here is to learn to make the best choices, under what appear to be impossible circumstances, we will have happier lives. What all parents want is a happy child and to experience happiness themselves. Emphasize adaptability—resiliency, and you will see that happen.