Every loving parent wants childhood to be a positive experience for their kids. When it comes to parenting however, only focusing on the positive is problematic because it derails children’s ability to develop resilience. Resilience, the ability to bounce back from adversity, is extremely important when teens move off to college and face problems independently.
Because many young people seem armed with a sense of self-importance and confidence, they present as able to conquer any challenge. Unfortunately, high rates of anxiety, depression and even suicide attempts in college-age students indicate that this is not the case.
Deluded by the belief that children should be protected from uncomfortable feelings (such as disappointment and sadness), some parents and school systems have completely undermined teaching the importance of work ethic and perseverance. The importance of learning to “try and try again” has been left behind for “everyone gets a trophy just for being you”.
The problem with the latter is that it breeds entitled thinking patterns and disrupts learning the natural link between effort, skill and success. Without understanding natural outcomes, later-age teens can be psychologically devastated when they experience failure. With no tolerance for the emotional discomfort, it is no wonder that their mental health spirals and academic success suffers.
Here are some tips to help parents build resilience with strategies that go the distance into adulthood:
- Reward hard work: With good intent, parents and educators have rewarded minimal effort with praise under the misguided belief that all positive reinforcement encourages children to do better. In truth, when everyone receives the same level of reward despite the level of effort, children do not learn the importance of natural outcomes. Reward your child for hard work and effort. Avoid reinforcing entitlement with statements like, “You’re so smart”, and instead use statements such as “Wow, when you work hard, it really pays off. Congratulations”.
- Allow kids to experience failure and persevere. The most successful people in western society, from Bill Gates to sports heroes including Michael Jordan, express the importance of perseverance. When parents and educational systems get in the way of this natural learning process, kids suffer. By the time they experience failure, they do so without the safety net of parents and teachers.
- Teach Kids that to Fail is to Learn. If we teach kids that they should always win, they become entitled. Instead, use experiences such as getting cut from a team as a learning opportunity where children learn to refocus and invest in building skills and knowledge to find that hard work pays off.
- Advocate Against No Zero Policies. More and more research is pointing to the fallout of policies which allow students to pass just for showing up. Teachers have been disciplined for refusing to pass students who did not complete necessary work, including tests and assignments. These kinds of policies not only create a sense of entitlement in kids but, over the long-term, they diminish resilience-building which is essential for long-term educational and career success.
When you see your that your child is unhappy with an outcome, avoid rescuing and instead think long-term. Resilient adults have learned to tolerate the uncomfortable feelings that accompany failure and use these feelings to persevere.
Dr. Julie Gowthorpe, R.S.W. http://www.drjuliegowthorpersw.com/ is an internationally acclaimed emotional health and relationship expert. She offers strategic approaches to help people find ways to verbally express, profoundly heal and to finally go the distance required for optimal living. As an author, speaker and expert radio personality, Dr. Gowthorpe provides engaging, practical advice and speaks about topics involving positive parenting, healthy relationships and mental well-being.