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5 ways to promote inner strength in your kids

We’ve all met someone that overcame immense adversity and is thriving today. And we’ve met the opposite—people who seem to have had only good luck and good fortune but just can’t seem to find inner peace or happiness. What’s the difference between the two? Likely resiliency. Resiliency is having the ability to bounce back—to adjust easily to change and misfortune, to be flexible when things don’t turn out as planned. 

It’s tempting, especially when kids are young, to want to shield them from bad news or hard realities. Yet strength and resiliency are not born from ease—they come from learning how to navigate tough situations and times of unwelcome change. If the ultimate goal for our kids is happiness, then handling stress and maintaining calm in the face of uncertainty is something they must master. Their happiness depends on how well they deal with bumps and bruises, not whether or not they have them.

Can we give our kids the gift of resilience, or do kids just come out that way? Like most traits, both genetics and environment are at play. If you want to help your kids practice resilience, start incorporating parenting habits that promote it. Here are 5 things you can try, starting right now.

1. Be their rock

Resilient kids often have a stable caregiver bond from early on or a mentor in their life that is a positive influence. Be your child’s biggest fan. Listen to them. Give them your full attention. Send the message that you think they are just great the way they are. In other words, even when you want to pass judgment and shout, ‘what were you thinking?’ or criticize their behavior, try to put yourself in their shoes and understand where they are coming from or ask yourself if your motivation is to support or teach a lesson. That’s called unconditional love. There is great freedom and comfort in knowing you have at least one person in your life that loves you no matter what. Be that person for your kids.  That doesn’t mean you can’t set boundaries or show disapproval, you just have to do it in a loving way. 

2. Hold back on the advice

We want to teach kids what we know and point out the obvious, but the hard truth is kids often need to learn life lessons on their own. If you feel your child is headed down a slippery slope, say with grades, rather than grounding them from video games and demanding they sit and study nonstop, ask them what’s up, and what their thoughts are on helping to improve the situation. “Ask open-ended questions and listen to their comments and solutions. If they come up with an idea themselves they are more apt to make it work,” says Dr. Brian Mesinger, pediatric psychologist with the Fort Collins Youth Clinic.  

3. Act honestly, be honest

It’s tempting, especially during the holidays, to pretend everything is okay. Maybe you buy that big gift your child has been pining for even though you can’t afford it, or you smooth over disagreements at the family dinner party. It makes sense you want the holidays to be perfect and magical, just don’t make acting falsely a habit.

“As parents, our inability to tolerate our children’s discomfort or disappointment can really get in the way. We hate to see our kids in pain so we try to make it better by minimizing problems or fixing problems for them. By taking away problems too quickly, we take away opportunities for kids to learn how to navigate challenges,” Mesinger says.

Kids who see parents working through a solution to a problem are more resilient. The next time you are unsure how to handle a situation, let your kids witness how you work it out.

“I advise parents to problem solve out loud in front of their kids. Show them it’s a process. Show them you don’t have all the answers immediately, and when you do make a mistake, admit it,” Mesinger says.

4. Say no

Resilient kids know they don’t get everything they ask for, and therefore they appreciate when they do get something they want that much more. That means you can lose the guilt for not buying them everything they want on their holiday wish list. In addition, resist buying a treat or toy just for going to the store with you, or giving material rewards for good behavior. Doing the right thing or getting good results from working hard is reward itself. Set clear boundaries around behavior and when those rules are broken, give clear consequences. 

5. Promote healthy habits for handling stress

Young people don’t have the life experience to know the valuable lesson that “this too shall pass.” School or social stress can feel overwhelming and all-consuming. After the fact when they feel better the next day, it’s okay to reinforce this wisdom or put it in words you think they will understand. When your kids screw up, talk it through with them. Ask what they could do differently next time then help them to set it aside, or encourage them to take the action they deem appropriate to fix the situation. Also, help kids learn healthy habits in the face of stress—and let them witness how you deal with stress. Different actions work for different people and for different situations. Putting on music, going for a walk or run, getting out in nature, taking a break from what’s causing the stress, writing in a journal, or talking or crying it out are all healthy ways to cope with stress. 

Real strength comes from facing challenges and working through them. Let your kids practice resiliency—they’ll be much happier for it, and so will you.