Raising Resilient Children

4 03 2014

Rubber Band with white backgroundResilience is the capacity to recover from adversity and return to well-being. Paul Tough, in his book How Children Succeed, explains that even kids who grow up in the most difficult situations of poverty, abuse, neglect, and stress can rise up from the ashes. It may not be the norm for kids of adversity, but with help, they can do it. “The teenage years are difficult for almost every child, and for the children growing up in adversity, adolescence can often mark a terrible turning point, the moment when wounds produce bad decisions. But teenagers also have the ability—or at least the potential—to rethink and remake their lives in a way that the younger children do not.”

Young teenagers who are supported by family and adults who empower them will face life’s challenges with more guts and stamina than those who fly solo. Those who have a strong sense of belonging, hope, and purpose will hold up better in the face of obstacles. Good parenting can transform a child into a happy, healthy, successful young person.

Resilience is not callousness. It is toughness. I think of certain people in my life who exhibit toughness when it is necessary and sweet sensitivity when it is called for. I call it “kind strength.” Kids can learn to be strong and kind, but it will not come naturally. Parents must model that dichotomy, and it should be directly taught to their children.

I hope my son is kind enough to recognize when a classmate is being bullied and strong enough to help the kid deal with the bully. And if he fails in helping the bullied kid, then I hope he is resilient enough to seek help from an adult and deal with the consequences. It takes confidence, empathy, courage, and inner toughness to be that kind of person. It may take a decade to get to that place, but that is my hope for him.

One day, our children will be on their own. They will live on their own with their own friends, their own responsibilities, their own troubles. Equipping them for independence requires us to guide them, not rescue them, as they handle adversity. We’ll have to help them help themselves.

Pain is Healthy
Dr. Paul Brand, in his brilliant book The Gift of Pain, wrote about the need to manage pain, not just avoid it, as we grow up. “Modern parents lavish sympathy every time their son or daughter suffers any slight discomfort. Subliminally or overtly, they convey the message that ‘Pain is bad.’”

So, what should we do to help kids? Should we make their lives miserable to toughen them up? No. Should we place artificial trials in their lives to prepare them for the real world? No. Life is tough enough. It will kick them around in time, if we just let it.

They will get plenty of practice dealing with trouble if we would just stop rescuing them at every turn. Your daughter will forget her lunch and homework. So be it. Let her deal with it, and then help her communicate her feelings. Listen to her and help her learn. But don’t take off from work to run home to get her lunch and homework and deliver it to her locker. Maybe what she really needs is a zero in the grade book and to miss a meal. Then, when her next trial comes and she fails to make the volleyball team, she’ll be a little more able to deal with the pain. Again, it is wise to listen to her and help her communicate her feelings. But don’t go meddling in her trouble, trying to fix it all up for her. Don’t call the coach demanding to know why your daughter was so unfairly assessed. Instead, teach your daughter something greater: she is loved by God, loved by her family, and has talent that will shine in some other area. A loss is followed by a gain. Those are life lessons so valuable that it costs pain and suffering to learn them.

There is great value in pain. Saint Augustine wrote, “Everywhere a greater joy is preceded by a greater suffering.” Let your kids experience a greater joy by allowing them to work through some pain. Let them make their mistakes while they are in our care so that we can love and support them through it.


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One response

5 03 2014
Mike Smith

Excellent article Andy! In my latest post, I mention that there could be two major issues that cause young people to fail. One is life being too hard – and the other is when life is too easy. You capture the “too easy” part well. No pain, no gain applies to more than exercise!

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