By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
The concepts of resilience and grit have been hot topics recently, particularly in the parenting, education, and psychology fields. This is for good reason as these qualities have been shown to be some of the most important traits you can help your child/teen develop in order to become successful adults. Interestingly, these are also traits that many adults are noticing seem to be lacking in some of the younger generations, which is a concern being written about all over the place online it seems.
These hot topic concepts also come up often in my office frequently, particularly when parents begin to recognize that these are character traits that their children, teens, or young adults seem to lack. I hear comments and concerns from parents due to their children or teens not being able to persist or manage their frustration during difficult tasks. Sometimes, it shows up in their inability to make decisions and follow through on them because they are fearful of their ability to manage a possible “wrong” decision.
I thought it could be helpful to write a blog with my tips for ways parents can help their children build resilience and grit from a young age to help prevent some of these challenges. As a psychologist who specializes in treating individuals across the lifespan and in working with parents, I believe that I have a unique perspective on how this trait may develop in small ways over a life.
Before we get into this topic too much, it might help to give some background on these concepts.
I love the way resilience is described in this article on the American Psychological Association’s website – “Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress… It means "bouncing back" from difficult experiences.” (You can find the original article and related information on resilience here).
As described by Angela Duckworth in her TED talk on grit (Check it out here!), grit is “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”
I believe the most important thing to know about resilience and grit is that they are character traits that can be developed and are not innate things that we either have or don’t have. These traits result from conscious choices about how we cope with the world and how we handle the adversity that we will inevitably face in our lives.
Hopefully these brief descriptions help you see just how important these traits are. Resilience is essentially the ability to continue when life is difficult and to overcome failure and Grit is the tendency to persist when the road to overcome failure becomes tough.
6 Ways to help your child develop resilience and grit:
1. Expect that life will have challenges
I love that parents want to raise their children with the mindset that things will go well for them. I totally can relate to wanting to have things be smooth for your child – it is really tough to watch your child struggle! However, this idea that things will go well and that problems are the anomaly is unfortunately completely inaccurate and misguided. Challenges in life are the norm and should be expected. Therefore, we as parents can do our best job for our kids by preparing them for challenges and how to use them as learning experiences!
I think normalizing challenge and struggle for your children is important and you can do that in many ways. For example saying something like, “I know that is tough, sometimes things in life will be tough for us, but we can handle it” or “Life can be really unfair and difficult sometimes, I think this is one of those times, but I know we can get through it together.” Another way you can do this is by sharing some of your own challenges with them. For example, if your child is struggling in a friendship, you can say something about how you remember what that was like for you as a child and the ways you learned to deal with the feelings you had. This will help them know they are not alone and that they are not the only ones dealing with a difficulty.
2. Allow them to experience failure
This is absolutely crucial! I hear from parents all the time just how much they want their kids to be happy and to succeed. However, they often mistakenly help their kids avoid failure too much and prevent them from the learning opportunities that come with failing. This can give them the message that they are not capable to dealing with or surviving challenges.
I would even take this one step further and suggest that you as a parent embrace failure. Failure means so many wonderful things – it means that you tried something new that was outside of your comfort zone, it means you pushed yourself and found your limit with something, failure means that you were brave. We often have a negative perception of failure in our culture and I would encourage us to reconsider this, especially as parents! Failure is not the worst thing by any means, it is a step on your path and a learning opportunity. (Check out my longer blog post on this very topic here).
3. Let your kids make decisions and deal with the outcomes
Let’s say that your child is debating about what sport they want to play or what class they want to take in school. You know that the one they are choosing may not be entirely the best fit for them but they really want to try it. I would recommend you let them make the decision and then deal with how it turns out. Maybe they love it – great, they now made a decision that worked out for them and that’s a great learning experience! Maybe they hate it – great, now they have made a decision that they can learn so much from. The best part of them hating it is that you can then work with them on how they deal with a difficult class, teacher, sport, etc. for the duration of the semester, season, etc.
Another example would be for a younger child when they choose ice cream at the ice cream shop you are pretty sure they will hate. Let them choose and then don’t rescue them from the outcome. Everything in life is there to teach us something so help them find the lesson there!
4. Don’t rescue too much or too quickly
When your child is struggling with something, try not to just jump in and either do it for them, fix the problem, or correct their mistake. Try to figure out exactly where their skill level is for dealing with that situation and then support them through scaffolding, expecting them to push themselves a little bit beyond their existing skill level to deal with it. For example, when your child is completing a puzzle and feels that it is too hard, push them to work for a few more minutes before you come to help. When you come over to help, don’t just do it for them or point out where the pieces go, talk them through their process of decision making and give little suggestions that will help them figure it out on their own.
The most important thing is that if you as a parent view challenges as opportunities to learn, your child will too!
5. Teach your kids to persist through challenges
So when a challenging situation comes up, model for them how to deal with it in a healthy, persistent way. It helps if you have a positive attitude about life’s challenges also!
Our language around challenges really matters in these situations – here are some examples of ways to talk positively about challenges:
6. Be comfortable with your own struggle and failures
If you can feel comfortable with the fact that things will not always go our way in life, you will inevitably pass that message on to your child. If you expect perfection or things to go smoothly, you will pass that on to your child too. So, I think it is important that you think about your relationship with adversity while you think about how to help your child through it. If you notice that you struggle with your own failures or with being resilient or having grit, perhaps it would be a good time to work on that in yourself while you work on it with your child!
Some great resources for developing more grit and resilience for yourself as an adult:
I hope that this list can be a jumping off point for you in learning how to help your child overcome adversity to develop more grit and resilience! If you would like to talk with a Thrive Therapist about yourself, your child, or teen attending therapy, please reach out to us by phone at 858-342-1304.
As always, thanks for reading and comments are always welcome regarding any issues around child or teen psychotherapy services in San Diego by Thrive Therapy Studio.
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