How to raise resilient kids

As a change and transformation specialist, I’ve spent many years in my professional career helping people navigate change. I’ve watched first-hand many struggle to come to terms with how their lives were going to alter. It was my job to outline the steps of the change and then support teams through each stage of the transition.

With a separation or divorce, sometimes you don’t have the luxury of having all the plans laid out for you. In fact, most of it can be very reactionary. I wholeheartedly believe, that if you do plan for the change, you’re more likely to navigate the change with a sense of ease and certainty.

When I reflect on my own separation, I wonder why it took me so long to get out. I now know it was because I feared it would ruin my kids life forever and I was scared of the unknown. People tried to reassure me by saying kids are resilient and they’ll be OK, but seriously, separation and divorce impacts everyone regardless of how well you manage it.

I consider myself a well-informed individual. I had a plan and chose a path of harmony throughout my separation for my kids sake. That plan took a month to execute and included things like creating a positive story about how our lives were going to be different, taking my kids along to some property inspections, so they were involved in the process. My kids were two at the time and I felt it was important for their well-being to step the process out for them.

Even though I went to a lot of effort to support my kids, their lives mostly certainly were impacted and when I saw the signs of distress, it was a hard pill to swallow. In saying that, my kids have done incredibly well to ride the waves alongside me and I have no doubt in my mind that the whole process has helped them build personal resilience.

So, what makes for a resilient kid? In my opinion, there are four basic skill sets – independence, problem solving, optimistic outlook and social connection.

Here’s how to promote those elements of learning;

1) A balance of support and challenge – wrapping your kids in cotton wool and doing everything for them will not teach your kids to be resilient or to have the necessary life skills to navigate tricky situations for themselves. You will see this unfold when they go to school. In fact, I will go as far as to say, when your kids get to school they will struggle to find their feet if they haven’t learnt to develop a sense of independence.

They may even end up getting bullied because of their inability to stand up for themselves. You’re not going to be there all of the time to defend your kids, so teaching them to respond constructively will help build their confidence.

Experiencing bullying behaviours, which is every parent’s worry, is exactly the type of behaviour the cotton wool kids need to build up personal resilience.  Allow your kids to make their own choices and decisions from an early age, but be sure to have firm boundaries in place. Kids need to know if they cross that line and when they do, make sure there is a consequence.

Bolster the learning, by taking a supportive approach and explain what went wrong. Invite your child to come up with solutions on how that problem can be resolved next time.

This process works an absolute treat and goes a long way to teaching kids to problem solve. The answers they give are logical, reasonable and meaningful to them. Be sure you add in your ideas too and collectively make a decision on what the best outcome is for all of you.

2) Mindset is everything – for every obstacle your child faces, take the time to show them another way to look at the situation. We, as adults have such a hard time reprogramming our brains after years of conditioning, but kids have an open mind and a willingness to learn new things without the mindset issues we face.

I’ll give you an example of something simple you can try with your kids. My son and I were playing catch one day when he was about four years of age. He was still developing his fine motor skills at that stage and was getting frustrated with himself for not being able to catch a ball.

He started with the “I can’t do this” statements, so at that point, I intervened. I told him instead of saying “I can’t do this, to say out loud three times yes I can,” before his next attempt. Every attempt after that he caught the ball, true story.

3) Lead by example – I think the whole process of separation and divorce forces kids to adjust to a new set of circumstances, which in turn builds some personal resilience along the way. They need to navigate two homes, possibly a new school, new friends, new partners, new rules, less of some things and maybe more of others.

I do believe, over time your kids learn to adjust to the new rules. Don’t however, underestimate the power of what they will learn from you. Your kids most formative years are between the ages of 0-7 years of age.

They will be soaking up all the skills, knowledge and experiences that you provide them with, so be mindful of how you handle yourself. As whole human beings, embrace both sides of your personality and when it comes to your kids, be sure there is a balance between that support and challenge.

Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve had an off day and taken it out on your kids. It’s how you recover from that situation and explain to them why you were so mad, is where the real lessons lie. Be sure to reassure them of your love and use  “I” statements to explain yourself rather than the “You” ones.

Own your feelings and reactions and they will too. It’s OK to display emotion because that teaches your kids to release theirs too. Everybody has a light and dark side, so no point denying it or pretending you’re perfect. That’s where kids get screwed up thinking they have to live up to something that doesn’t exist. 

4) Genetics – some kids are gifted with optimistic genes and power through challenges in life with relative ease. That’s not to say that those kids who haven’t inherited that gene is a lost cause. Research has shown us that there are two types of mindset, fixed and growth.

People with a fixed mindset believe they are born with fixed gifts and talents in life and that’s that. Whereas, someone with a growth mindset believes they are born with certain gifts and talents but come to understand through hard work and dedication they can continue to learn and grow. Teach your kids that knowledge is power and to expand their minds is one of the most empowering things they can do for themselves.

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