Raising Resilient Kids

How can we raise resilient kids — who can be flexible, respond well to challenges, and thrive under all kinds of circumstances?

In the next few days I’ll write about a few helpful practices. One of the most important is to embrace failure.

For many of us, failure is something we try to avoid at all costs. Especially if we think that our skills and talents are mostly inborn and fixed (something Psychologist Carol Dweck calls a “fixed mindset”) then failure can shatter our sense of our own talents and skills — or offer proof of our worst insecurities.

Thinking that way is a recipe for fragility. It can lead us–or our kids–to avoid challenges, to only try things we think we’re naturally good at, or to not try at all. It can cause anxiety which makes us inflexible, or gives us tunnel vision.

And if we do fail, if instead of learning all we can from the experience, we can end up focused on assigning blame–to ourselves, or to others.

So what’s the alternative? Embracing failure as a necessary part of the learning process and a healthy sign that we’re trying things that are hard. As Lynn Lyons, LICSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in treating anxious families, told the blog Psych Central, “Failure is not the end of the world. [It’s the] place you get to when you figure out what to do next.”

In my house, here are some of the ways we’re trying to flip the script:

  • Failure = growth: When my kids are trying to do something new, and frustrated at lack of success, we talk about how when they’re trying something hard, it’s actually making their brain grow bigger and smarter.
  • No apologies for trying hard things: Sometimes, my kids apologize when they make a mistake. I try to remind them that mistakes are a sign that they’re open to new challenges–and that I’d actually be worried if they *weren’t* making any mistakes.
  • It’s ok to feel uncomfortable: Recently, my daughter was devastated after a performance at a talent show that didn’t go according to plan. My first reaction was to try to protect her from her pain and simply reassure her that she’d been great. Then I realized her disappointment was real, and I wasn’t leaving room for it. I caught myself and tried again. I began by saying I thought it was awesome that she’d tried something hard, and I’d enjoyed her performance. But then I asked  her what she felt like she learned, and what she might want to do differently next time. She said, “I guess if I want it to go right, I need to practice even more, until I don’t make any more mistakes.” Seems like a good lesson.

In my friend’s Miriam’s 4th grade classroom, they’ve taken it several steps further. They made a “mistake museum” to celebrate awesome mistakes students have made, and the learnings that came from them. She says, “I also make a big deal out of ‘helpful mistakes’ that the kids make in class. I think them for making each mistake because it helps clear things up for everyone when we go over it together as a class.”

Where in your child’s life can you let go of “fixing” and allow her to sit more with her own experiences?