Monday, February 6, 2012

Helping Children To Be More Resilient

    A phenomenon has overtaken this country in the past few years.  Children are never allowed to feel sad or angry or to fail at anything.  Parents, wanting their children to be happy, are quick to jump in and fix any problem their child has, trying to stave away any sadness.  Of course, the parents do this because they love their children and want to see the smiles on their faces.  However, the results of this type of parenting are not pretty.
     A child who never is allowed to feel sad, doesn’t learn how to deal with sadness, how to get past it, to see the beauty in the world, the goodness in people, or the strength in himself.  Without the minor sadnesses that childhood can offer, he does not learn how to cope with true sadness later on.  When a child’s pet dies, for example, it is okay to feel sad.  Parents can help children to understand the emotion, that we all feel sad sometimes, but that the sadness will pass in time and we will be happy again.  In this way, the child is prepared to maneuver through sadnesses, knowing that there will come a time when she will be happy again.
     A child who is not allowed to be angry, who is told to “get over it,” or not to be mad, doesn’t learn that there are some situations that absolutely warrant getting angry and then learning to use that anger to spur one on to greater things.  If, for example, a child gets angry because he can not have a toy he wants, and is allowed to feel that anger, and is guided to understand that he may be angry now but that we don’t always get everything we want, learns that sometimes anger is warranted and sometimes it is not.  At any rate, it is not rewarded.  When the child who is beaten out by another child for a team they both wanted to be on, and the losing child becomes angry, it is the parent’s job to allow the child to be angry, but to make sure that the child understands why he is angry.  Should his anger be directed at the child who played better or at himself because he didn’t try his best?  Learn from that anger.

    A child who is never allowed to fail at anything, or who is always told that she did a good job even when she did not, does not learn how to process failure, to learn from it, and not to make the same mistakes again.  Also, a child whose parent always praises in the face of failure or poor performance is less trusted to tell the child the truth.  The child knows in his heart that the effort was poor, or that he failed.  Yet, when the parent praises the effort or the result anyway, he learns to distrust the praise given in other situations.  A good example of this is a little boy playing baseball.  He comes up to bat and swings and misses.  Everyone yells, “good try.”  Another pitch comes and he swings and misses, and again everyone yells “good try.”  The third pitch comes and he hits a little roller back to the pitcher who throws him out at first.  Again, everyone yells, “That’s okay.  Good try.”  The mother, however, says nothing to him and asks the other parents not to tell him that it was a good try.  It wasn’t.  He failed.  The mother is criticized for being too hard on the little boy.  After the game, walking to the parking lot, the little boy asks his mother how he did.  She honestly tells him that his two hits were great, the run he scored was helpful to his team, but that his last at bat was horrible.  He looks up, smiles, and says, “I know.  Why does everyone yell ‘good try’ even when it isn’t?  It really bugs me.”  This mother understood that honesty is important and that the child needed to learn from the failure, figure out what he did wrong, and perhaps correct it in the next game.
    By allowing children to feel their emotions, we help them to become more resilient adults, able to cope with those emotions when they are felt.  By keeping children from feeling negative emotions, we are not giving them the tools with which to stave off depression, loneliness, and anger-related escalations.
    So, the next time your little one is sad, cuddle up with her, ask why she is sad, understand, and let her know that the sadness will pass.  The next time your child is angry, ask why he is angry, accept that, and help him to channel that anger in a positive way.  And, the next time your pride and joy fails, look that failure in the eye and make sure that he accepts it, learns from it, and moves on.  You will be ensuring that your child will become a resilient adult.