How do you create resilience in your children. Today, parents are expected to have the resources, the time, and know how to address all the challenges their children meet on a day to day basis. Sometimes its hard to know what to focus on or what to prioritise to keep on top of things. Parents frequently ask me is how they can increase their children’s self esteem or their self confidence. While they really want that question answered, I believe that what they really want is for their child to be protected in the world. What parents really want is for their child to be able to bounce back from life’s challenges and be resilient. Quite often when a child is bullied a parent will give in to behaviours like advising their child to fight back, or will march into the school and cause a scene. None of this is what their child really wants, or what they really need to see. Unresolved, bullying becomes frustrating for the parent. It is also difficult for a child to see their parent frustrated and helpless.
What you can do as a parent however, is to focus your parenting skills on creating resilience in your child.
What is Resilience
Resilience is about being able to bounce back from failure or defeat. It means being able to face the challenges the world offers and not giving up. It means having the ability to keep going in the belief that things will turn around and that life will improve. It means having the grit and determination to keep getting up and moving forward, no matter how often you are knocked down. Knowing that each time I get knocked down, I can and will get up a stronger person.
Parents build resilience quite naturally when their children are babies or toddlers. When a baby or toddler falls and hurts itself a parent acts instinctively. They pick up their child, they hug them, they tell the child they love them, they tell them that they are OK. Most importantly they reassure their child that everything is going to be alright. Its natural for a parent to want to protect and assure their child. Unfortunately, as children gets older parents can forget or become uncomfortable with relating to their child this way. Maybe the initial trigger to that sequence becomes impossible and so we stop the complete process of reassuring them. Of course, you could start the process by just hugging your child.
How to Build Resilience in your Child or Young Adult
Parents often ask the question how do they build self esteem and self confidence in their children. In this blog I am going to focus in on those qualities. However, just as important as the two qualities self confidence and self esteem are, the qualities of self belief and self compassion are equally important. For some reason parents rarely ask about self belief and I have to admit I have never had a parent ask me about self compassion. Yet all four qualities, self esteem, self confidence, self belief, and self compassion are important elements in building resilience. Somehow we seldom if ever look to build our children’s ability to believe in themselves or to express self compassion towards themselves.
Self Confidence and Resilience
Self confidence is usually perceived and defined as a global trait. What that means is we express our understanding of self confidence as a quality that we have in every part of our life or we see ourselves as not having any confidence at all. Its like we see self confidence as an all or nothing quality. In Ireland we make statements like Americans are so much more confident that the Irish. What does that mean. What does it mean if I say I am not confident. Usually we don’t think about it, but often we are referring to a skill or a set of skills we need to have to carry out a certain role. Self confidence is specific, and refers to a specific skill we lack or we believe we have have enough of. More often that not our self confidence in a skill is an evaluation of that skill. I once sat in a lecture hall to hear a talk from the CEO of a national governing body. The CEO had made some amazing changes in their organisation and I was very interested in what they had to say about that transformation. Five minutes into the talk their nervousness resulted in them dropping their watch, losing their place in their notes. Eventually, they began to ramble off the point. I realised that being a top class CEO, did not make a confident public speaker. Confidence is specific and the important point is that we can learn to be and appear to be confident in specific skills. As a parent you can help your child build self confidence by helping them become competent in a skill. If you can learn one skill you can learn another. It can help a child feel good about themselves and also improve their social skills by interacting with others. Even if your child learns a skill that does not require a lot of any social interaction, learning a skill can help them feel confident in some aspect of themselves.
An important issue from a parenting point of view is that as parents we don’t confuse success or failure with love and approval. A child’s success in a particular skill set is not something that should lead them to evaluating how much they are loved or appreciated. Children like to please and it can be easy for them to believe that they are only valued when they succeed. In many ways learning a skill can help generate self confidence, but if a child perceives that the learned skill is the only a way to get love or attention then it becomes something that can become a chore. In turn this process can unintentionally decrease their self esteem and how they view themselves. Ideally, it may be best to encourage a child to select a hobby or interest that they can be passionate about for its own sake. Trying to master a skill is a way for the child to learn determination from the process failing and trying again on their own terms. Its also a chance for the parent to stand back and let their child make their own mistakes, and learn from them.
Reading this blog might make you change your mind about what self confidence is. You may not agree that self confidence is specific. But you might begin to see that there is more to be being resilient than self confidence on its own. That self confidence is only part of the picture, in building resilience.
Next week we will take a look at self esteem, what it is, and how its linked to the qualities of self compassion.