As we have written previously, resiliency and social emotional learning are skills a child learns so that they learn how to cope with challenges, and know that no matter what problems they face they will be able to find a solution either by themselves or through cooperation with other people. They also learn the skills to help other people to face their challenges.
While teachers and other professionals play a very important role in helping children develop these skills, the most valuable social emotional teacher a child will ever have is their own parents. In this article we have 7 secrets parents can use to build resiliency in their children. Admittedly cutting the list down to 7 secrets was very challenging, but we have selected our 7 favourite tips.
1. Be a role model
This has to be our most important tip. Most parents learn the truth of this the first time they drop a swear word in front of their kid only to hear it mirrored back them. Our children learn most deeply from the model that we provide them. If we want our children
to be resilient and happy then we must also learn these skills ourselves.
Below are just a few links on social and emotional learning for adults that we recommend.
[some links on resilience in adults
2. Empathy & Respect
Life would be so much easier if kids would just do what they are told to do? However kids are like everyone else, they have their own needs, feelings and ideas. Showing empathy and understanding about these to our kids has many benefits.
First of all, we will have a better understanding of why they want or don’t want to do something and it makes it easier to find ways to motivate them to do everything from completing homework to eating healthy food.
Even young kids like to be understood and respected. Empathy isn’t about caving in to what they want. If they ask for ice cream for breakfast you either say “Stop being childish and eat your porridge” or we can instead respond “I love ice cream too, but it is not a good food for breakfast, we can go for ice cream after school.” The latter obviously respects the fact that they like ice cream and shows that you feel the same way.
Finally by showing empathy and understanding to them you are providing a wonderful role model for your kids. If children can learn to show empathy and respect to everyone they have learnt a very valuable life skill.
3. Let your child make decisions and even rules
Mark and Sarah are running late again and it looks like they are going to have another battle with their son Aaron to get him dressed. He is refusing to put on a shirt and they are at their wits end to make him wear the one they laid out for him. Then Mark remember a little trick he was taught. He asks Aaron to choose a shirt he likes. It is so much easier to get Aaron to put on his favourite shirt once he has chosen it.
Part of growing up is having increasingly more control of your life. As your children grow give them more opportunities to decide. By asking them to make choices you are listening to them, letting them participate and contribute as well helping them become better decision makers. As your children learn to choose they learn to make the right choices and can face problems because they will see problems as choices.
4. Solving problems
There is still one thing that sticks in my mind from when I was in primary school. It was a day when I had a huge and insurmountable problem, my shoelaces had become untied and I didn’t know how to tie them up. The problems children face are huge to them but minor to us. While it is always quickest to solve our children’s problems for them, it better for them to teach them how to solve some of them themselves and it gives to children the skills to face challenges.
Part of growing up is learning to solve problem. This is always difficult for parents because they have to go through a constant transition of doing things for their children, to showing and helping them to solve problems, to leaving them to solve the problems themselves.
What children need to learn more than anything else are not solutions to problems but problem solving technique, such as figuring out what the problem really is, brainstorming solutions and then later thinking back to see if it solved the problem.
For my childhood shoelace challenge I have a vivid memory of my teacher drying my tears, tying my laces for me and then going how and asking my parents how to tie my own laces.
5. The experience of mastery
My second favourite quote from The Simpsons TV show is “If something is hard to do then it is not worth doing.” This is a quote best said with a sage Homer Simpson voice, because it makes it really funny. It is such a dysfunctional philosophy yet it is easy for us to learn to give up when something is even a little hard.
This is why learning to master something difficult is such an incredibly important part of developing resiliency. Mastery is a process of achieving goals you are passionate about by hard work, problem solving and recovering from setbacks and failures. This could be everything from learning drawing, mastering basketball jump shots or learning how to cook a something. These skills translate into techniques for dealing with school projects and personal relationships and then goes on to skills used throughout the rest of your life. Many people who have achieved as an adult were showing the same commitment in even their younger years at school.
6. Teach kids to treat mistakes as learning experiences
A famous Olympic skier when he was preparing for his first Olympics started with a new coach who watched him do a slalom ski run. The coach then asked the skier, “Do you know what you did wrong?” when the skier couldn’t think of anything he did wrong, the coach said “You didn’t fall over.”
You see the skier wasn’t thinking his goal was to not fall over, however it is only important not to fall over during a competition. In training he should have been falling over all the time so he could learn how far he can push the limit and improve.
Making mistakes are vital part of learning. When we become scared of making mistakes we are unlikely to do our best and when we do make the inevitable mistakes we will give up. The resilient child learns to treat mistakes as a learning experience and understands that no set back is permanent.
7. Communication, Team work and cooperation
I once gave a group of primary school students a creative problem solving task; the egg drop problem. Groups are given a bunch of drinking straws and an egg and had to find a way to build a little capsule to put the egg in and drop it from a height without the egg breaking. I had tried this task with adult learners on several occasions and I thought I would give an easier version to a group of kids I was filling in with for a summer schoo. I thought it would be fun and l wanted to see how they would handle the problem.
The first thing they did was start trying to work individually as this was how all other activities had been previously done. It only took one phrase, “Work as a team” for them to change their model of social cooperation. If only the adults could do that so easily.
As we grow older we become more fixed in the way we cooperate and participate, often to the detriment of the groups that we work with. This goes far beyond just team work, we need to learn skills in leadership, cooperation, creativity and communication, just to name a few.
Resiliency and social emotional learning is both individual and social. The more chance your children have to participate in a range of different social models the better prepared they will be to respond to different social situations resiliently.
By the way, I think the kids did better at solving the egg drop problem that the adults and certainly worked better in teams when prompted to do so.
Remember Resiliency is something that is built over time as your child grows up and is a skill that helps them learn and live better throughout their entire life. This is list if only a small number of the many skills for life you as parents will impart to your children.
Some useful links
7 Secrets to Raising a Happy Child: http://zenhabits.net/7-secrets-to-raising-a-happy-child/
The Secret of Raising a Resilient Child: http://www.ahaparenting.com/_blog/Parenting_Blog/post/The_Secret_of_Raising_a_Resilient_Child/
Building Social And Emotional Skills In Elementary Students: Ninja Mastery Or Emotional Management: http://www.projecthappiness.org/2013/07/03/building-social-and-emotional-skills-in-elementary-students-ninja-mastery-or-emotional-management/