In my career as a child psychiatrist, I’m seeing more and more teens and young adults who are completely and totally lacking resilience. I don’t say this to be mean or judgmental, I honestly utter it with fear and trepidation. These are bright, well-intended kids whose lives are completely derailed by one bad test grade or an ignored Instagram post.
What makes it terrifying is how poorly these kids are prepared for life: college, dating, applying for jobs, working for a difficult boss. These experiences are completely overwhelming and unmanageable, and instead of dealing with them, they tend to just give up.
I can’t begin to explain the cause for this epidemic, but I can say with some certainty that we as parents aren’t helping.
Many of us are sending our kids the wrong message: We just want you to be happy, and (therefore) I’ll fix that problem for you.
I hate to say it, but being happy does not adequately prepare our kids for the real world.
The real world does not always give second, third, or fourth chances. The real world does not give you a promotion because you “tried really hard.” The real world does not always advocate for you on your behalf, or settle a conflict so you don’t have to deal with confrontation.
There are always going to be difficult challenges in our kids’ lives, starting from squabbles on the playground to disappointing grades, losing the big game, and not getting into your top college.
Those latter examples might seem more significant, but resilience starts with the small stuff. As a parent, we can’t — and shouldn’t — always shield our kids from pain and difficulty.
There will be times when your child will try their very hardest at something, and it flat out just won’t be enough. It will seem unfair. They will be sad. Disappointed. Frustrated. Angry.
Let them feel that way.
As hard as it can be, just sit there with them as they work through those emotions. Let them learn by experience that, despite how hard this moment feels right now, I can get through this. I can tolerate this setback and move forward. I can use this painful process to learn, grow, motivate, or realize it’s time to try something new.
There is nothing more life-changing than surviving a major disappointment and figuring out how to get back up again.
Robbing them of that process by trying to “fix” it for them or “make it all better” only teaches them they can’t handle it and they need to rely on mom or dad to do things for them.
If your child gets a bad grade, use it as an opportunity to learn. Wonder out loud with him, did I really try my hardest? What can I do differently next time? How can I check in with my teacher to avoid this happening again? This is much more valuable than you calling the teacher on his behalf. That phone call not only enables your child but also sends the message he isn’t capable of advocating for himself.
If your child is having trouble with a friend, help them sort through it together. Encourage them to talk it out. Or start the painful process of realizing that not all friendships are meant to last forever. Resist the urge to call the friend’s parent to solve the problem for them. That won’t do either of them any good in the long run when they have to deal with a conflict with a colleague.
Want a simpler example? From a young age, encourage your child to order for herself at a restaurant, talk to her preschool teacher about an issue she is having, or check in with her coach if she wants more playing time.
A big part of resilience is learning you have a voice and how to use it, and how to find it again if it gets lost.
Share your own personal life examples with your kids, too. Seeing you cope with something disappointing or painful can be an eye-opening experience. It will also teach them language they can use when they want to share their own struggles with you.
As a parent, I am quickly learning that the easiest solution is often not the best one long-term. And sometimes the best solution is downright hard. It’s not fun to watch our kids struggle, be sad, defeated, or down. We have to stay strong though and be there for our kids while they figure out how to solve their own issues.
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(This post originally appeared on Mid-Peninsula Moms Blog on January, 23 2019)