Fearless Parenting: 5 Ways to Raise Resilient Children

Take a moment and remember what humanity has survived for you to be here today.  Wars, famine, life as hunter-gatherers, one too many seasons of the Simpsons, at least 1 ice age and so much more.  To overcome adversity and hardship is to be resilient. Recently, resilience has become a hot word in different contexts, for various reasons.  Resilience, however, does not always have to refer to a physical obstacle. One can be resilient in socially, culturally, emotionally, and in so many other ways.  

A Japanese proverb speaks to it well stating, "Fall seven times, stand up eight."  Life is an uncertain event and in this uncertainty, we need to keep standing up. A valuable lesson to teach our children.  Children are always watching their parents, teachers, and relatives, imitating their attitudes and behaviours. Here are a few ways you can intentionally start showing your child how to be resilient.  

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1. Connect with your inner child

Connecting with your inner child means jumping in that mud puddle, sniffing that flower and climbing that tree.  By giving ourselves permission to play we also show our children that it is ok to play too. Sure it may feel awkward at first being on all fours and sniffing a dandelion, but your display of curiosity will inspire your child to do the same.  It does not need to be nature related either. Displaying child-like curiosity in whatever experience you are engaged in, role-models for your children that learning is about exploration and we don’t need to know everything already.

You can model curiosity looking at a flower, a machine, or a building.  It really does not matter. Just engage with the moment and be genuinely interested in what you are observing.  The key is to remember that you don’t have to know or have the answers. Just be in awe. LIke starting any new routine, you may not want to at first, but when you get into it and practice this a few times, you will notice a world of difference.  This really takes the pressure off.

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2.  Let them fall, and get up again.  

As children grow so do their physical capabilities.  They crawl, they walk, and they start to climb stairs.  Up go the baby gates and operation, “contain-the-baby” is in effect and probably justifiably so.  But soon enough your child will have developed the muscle control to take on more challenging physical tasks.  In fact, they will actively seek them out as they explore their surroundings. This is when parents need to check their motives before swooping in to scoop up their child when they start taking some risks physically.  If a child is climbing on a fallen log that is one foot off the ground and surrounded by earth or moss, to most children a fall like this will not be life-threatening. The challenge for the parent will be to resist the urge to remove any possibility of their child taking a tumble.

Next time a tumble happens, resist the urge to swoop and scoop while asking,  “Baby, are you ok?” and instead try the watching and waiting technique. You see the fall occur so just wait and watch how your child reacts to the incident.  They may simply get up look around and reorient themselves before re-attempting their epic climb back onto the log. If parents constantly swoop and scoop, it sometimes triggers a crying response from the child.  The child was fine, but as soon as the parent comes in cooing “Baby, are you ok?” the waterworks begin.

If this sounds like a tall order, perhaps modifying your swoop and scoop to a slowed approach is an excellent first step.  In other words, after the tumble takes place, pause and count to 10, then slowly walk over, and in your calmest and most grounded voice possible say, “you took a tumble.  Is there anything you need?” Keep it slow, smooth and straightforward. Changing your reaction from a fearful tone to one of love and support will help shift the child’s response to the tumble they just had.  

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3.  Confidence through competence

Have you ever tried something new?   It could be running a 10k race, installing a new shower head, or planting a tomato plant.  If it was something legitimately new to you, you might have felt nervous at first, but for whatever reason you pushed through completing the race, installing a functional shower head and eating a homegrown cherry tomato.  Did you ever reflect on it and say to yourself, “I did that?” I hope you did and were able to feel a warm fuzzy feeling of accomplishment wash over you.

For children, their life experience is more limited than a thirty or forty-year-old, so on a day to day basis, they are encountering new tasks.  Learning to ride a bike, climb a tree, have a peaceful disagreement, make a new friend, and all kinds of other skill-sets. Each skill they repeat, they create new mistakes and learn new lessons.  These trials and tribulations they endure along the journey deepen the sense of accomplishment a child feels upon the completion of a task.

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4.  The art of questioning

Do you ever wish you had a wizard or Yoda in your life?  One thing those characters have in common is that they don’t just spoon feed the answers to their students.  They make them work for it. The magic is in the mystery. Imagine if you just read the first and last chapter of a book.  You would miss all the adventures in between.

When parents just tell the children the way something is, like how an engine works or identifying a butterfly, they take away the mystery and majesty of learning.  Instead, parents could guide the children to find their answers through questioning. Helping children find their own answers through questioning gives them the confidence to look for their own solutions in life, rather than be spoon-fed information from perceived authority figures.  

This method or art of questioning is not as simple as firing off the 5 W’s (who, what, when where, why).  However, there is a method to the madness. Always start your questions with your children as confidence boosting questions.  In other words, questions they are sure to be able to have an answer for, such as, “What colours do you see?”, “Are there any moving parts?”, “Which way is it moving?”.  By asking these easy to answer questions, the child is sure to begin feeling more confident in their own abilities to figure things out. At the beginning of using this technique, these confidence-building questions should make up the majority of your questions.

The second level of questioning is to ask questions that the children will be able to figure out, but will give them more of a run for the money, so to speak.  These questions should have the information available at that moment but may require a little extra focus to answer them. For instance, the confidence builder might be, “What colour is that butterfly?” The second level question might then be, “How many legs does it have?”  This question would require the child to be more patient and observe the butterfly with greater focus to come to an answer. These questions are worked up to after several confidence builders, but then again every child has a different level of tolerance for such questions, so it is essential to know your audience.

The final level of question is the mind buster,  the Yoda question. These questions are not asked every day or even every week.  This third level of questions is asked to the child to get them to think beyond what they are currently aware of.  To answer such a question might require some research or soul-searching even. Continuing with the butterfly example, one might ask, “Where do the butterflies go in the winter” or “What colour is the caterpillar that turns into this butterfly?”  Questions like these pull the child out to a greater sense of awareness beyond what they already knew.

By using these different levels of questions the child then experiences what it is like to figure out their own answers (confidence through competence), and the higher levels of questions help model how to think critically or deeply about any given topic.  Through repeated question asking, the child is then given the opportunity to learn how to ask their own questions, and one day they won’t need any cueing from you. In the meantime, though we can still give our kids some answers, yet by working some questions into the daily routine, we begin to build our children’s critical thinking ability and their self-confidence.

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5. Lost proofing “101”  

There is so much fear tied up in getting lost.  Look at how many movies, books, and Netflix shows there are about getting lost in the wilderness.  Thank goodness there is always the cool, calm and collected fearless leader who tells everyone to calm down and reason because they are a biologist/ex-Navy SEAL/yoga teacher whatever.  Why can’t we all be like that person? Well, of course, we can, it’s just like everything else, it takes practice.

Lost proofing can start by becoming more familiar with your general surroundings.  Start with the street you live on, its critical landmarks, and other noticeable attributes of where you live, so that next time you walk down the road, you can point them out to your children.  Making a song out of the trip is another way to make those exciting characteristics of the neighbourhood stand out in the mind of the child.

"We're walking by the big old oak tree,  with the spooky hole. And the neighbours garden with the big light pole."

Once you have one way figured out, it's time to switch it up.  It's like navigational cross-training for the mind. Take new ways home in the car, biking, or walking with your child.  This helps them (and you) learn new areas and ways to get home while instilling a sense of adventure and novelty.

If you were to take anything from this I hope that it's simply that you let the inner child in you take the wheel the next time you're out with your children in nature.  Explore, be inquisitive, have fun, and be in your body. Doing so will undoubtedly inspire those around you to be curious and push their comfort zone out into new territory.  Please let me know how it goes and comment below.