One of the hardest but most rewarding aspects of parenthood is knowing that you’re not just raising a child – you’re raising a future adult. The traits that make adults successful in their relationships and goals—honesty, kindness, empathy—are built during childhood.
Resiliency is an especially important characteristic to start building from a young age. We may not need our three-year-old to be resilient since we are there to support them, but introducing a three-year-old to the concept of resiliency will better prepare them to process and overcome disappointment as they grow up and become more independent. “Teach them how to do it for themselves long before they need to do it for themselves,” is the advice from Susan Stone, Parent Educator for the Center for Children and Youth.
The good news is, even if your child is well into their teenage years, it’s never too late to start.
Risk-Taking and Resiliency
Allowing and encouraging your child to engage in age-appropriate risks is a key way to build their resiliency. “When we hear ‘risk-taking’ we tend to go to a negative place,” says Stone. “But age-appropriate risk for a child is anything that stretches their comfort zone. It can be something positive.”
For younger children, that may mean ordering for themselves at a restaurant or climbing higher on the playground or trying out for a new team. For older children and teens, it may be talking to the new kid in class or making a new friend or asking a peer out on a date.
These are all examples of positive risk because they all carry the possibility of failing or being disappointed or feeling uncomfortable. But while they may be scary, they aren’t dangerous.
As part of encouraging your child to take a risk, it’s also important to accept that they might fail and to help them be okay with that. It’s natural to want to protect your child from disappointment, but that doesn’t help them grow. Instead, work with them to process their disappointment and move forward.
For example, if your child expresses a desire to try out for a team you suspect they might not make or audition for a competitive role in the school play, let them do it anyway. Take the opportunity to prep them for all the possible outcomes. If they get it, it’ll be great and you’ll be proud of them. If they don’t get it, they’ll be disappointed but there will be a valuable opportunity to learn. Maybe they can practice a certain skill more and try out again, or maybe they’ll have a better perspective on a different area where they can shine. No matter what, if you put value in the process and define success by how hard they try, your child will come to see failure as a learning opportunity, rather than an ending.
The Benefits of Resiliency
The bottom line is, nobody succeeds all the time and the best thing you can do as a parent is to be encouraging, while also being realistic. Prepare your child for the possibility of failure, encourage their effort, be empathetic toward their disappointment, and be honest about the setbacks that you’ve faced as well.
In doing so, you’ll build a resilient child who will become an independent, caring, and open-hearted adult.