QUESTION: Of all the nonmaterial things parents can give to their children, what do you think is the most important?
ANSWER: Well, that’s about as close to an impossible question as I’ve ever been asked! Of course, happiness comes to mind. But then so does the ability to form close, loving relationships. So does success (whatever that means). Or a satisfying career.
But there’s one trait that, if we can help our children develop it, may contribute to all of the above: resilience.
Resilience is defined in many ways, but one of my favorites comes from Psychology Today:
“Resilience is the psychological quality that allows some people to be knocked down by the adversities of life and come back at least as strong as before. Rather than letting difficulties, traumatic events or failure overcome them and drain their resolve, highly resilient people find a way to change course, emotionally heal and continue moving toward their goals.”
Fostering a sense of resilience in your children can help them take control of their lives. Here are six steps that will help you achieve that goal.
Practice empathy: Empathy is the ability to see things from someone else’s viewpoint. And the best way to instill it in your children is to model it.
So listen closely when they speak — not only to their words, but also to their behavior and emotions — and let them know that you understand. If you don’t, ask them to explain. Skip the preaching, judgments and lectures.
Encourage responsibility: Provide plenty of opportunities to demonstrate responsibility.
Maybe that means watching a younger sibling for an hour, cooking dinner or doing a volunteer project. Whatever you choose, make sure the chances of success are high. The more your child succeeds, the more responsibility she’ll want to take on.
Support cooperation: Encourage your children to participate in activities or events where they have to work with others toward a common goal.
That could be working with fellow students on classroom project, organizing a schoolwide event, or even helping plan and coordinate a post-COVID family reunion.
The goal is for them to learn to express and defend their opinions, but also to listen respectfully to others — especially when they disagree.
Provide positive feedback: Of course you love your children, and they’re special and important to you. But when was the last time you actually told them?
Try to spend some one-on-one time with each of your children — if you can’t do it every day, at least shoot for once a week. And be sure you praise them for their efforts as well as their achievements — or, just for no reason at all. Maybe it’s a hug or a kiss, a text or an ice cream cone.
As the poet Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Make room for failure: Children need to understand that making mistakes is a natural part of life— and an essential part of the process of learning.
Tell them about some of the mistakes you made, both as a child as an adult. And tell them what you learned from those mistakes and what you might do today if you were ever in the same situation (or what you actually did in the past).
Accept them for who they are: It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting our kids to live up to our expectations — and to be disappointed when they don’t. Try not to do this.
I must be feeling in a poetic mood, because here’s an excerpt from Kahlil Gibran that sums this up nicely:
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself…
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts…
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”
Armin Brott is a syndicated columnist and author of eight books on fatherhood. Visit his website, www.DadSoup.com, or follow him on Twitter @mrdad.