Seven (More) Things You Can Do To Build Resilience In Your Kids

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In the last post, I covered seven things--most of them small, in life’s “little moments” that can be overlooked--parents can do to build resilience in their kids and form in them an “anti-fragile” disposition. I also made the point that this is incredibly important, due to the changes in parenting and culture that have had unintended negative outcomes on youth.

We should pay attention, here. As psychologist Jonathan Haidt notes, we should “prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.” That takes some re-thinking of practices and habits that we can take for granted.

Here are seven more things parents can do to build their kids’ grit: 

 

1) Go To A “Ninja Warrior” Gym Or Open Gym Time At A Gymnastics Gym
These “American Ninja Warrior” style gyms are popping up all over the place. We have one in our city. They are great places for kids to develop risk-taking courage and to tackle and build physical skills that they cannot yet do.

This has obvious physical benefits, but it has emotional and mental benefits too, building their confidence and ability to step outside their comfort zone.

2) Leave practice
Especially at the elementary levels, many parents stay and watch their kids’ sports practices, or at least they are present in the room/on the sidelines.

I know you might think this is a small thing and is a gesture of support for your kid, but it changes the dynamic, even when the parent doesn’t intend to.

I coached both high school and grades K-8 as a head coach for 9 years, and assisted for many years more. My near universal experience was that the mere presence of a parent subtly changed a kid’s focus and performance, and judging from the many conversations I’ve had with other coaches across multiple sports, it ain’t just me.

With a parent in the room, the athlete draws his focus to parent reaction, when his focus should be 100% on skill acquisition, enjoying the sport, and listening to coach direction.

A parent’s presence at practice changes things in other ways too.  So take a step back and go somewhere else for practice. Let practice be their thing.


I’m normally all for parent involvement. When it comes to games and volunteering in the various aspects of running a team, go full throttle there. But when it comes to practice I advocate a more hands off approach.

 

3) Directly And Explicitly Teach--Often--Giving A Firm Handshake And Direct Eye Contact When Speaking To Someone
This one is easily taken for granted, but the majority of students I interact with don’t do this well, especially when it comes to greeting and addressing adults. This is something that must be directly taught and repeated often, for both boys and girls. It is not the sort of thing that is just “caught” in every day interaction. That modeling is necessary, but not sufficient.

 

4) Let Them Do The Little Things On Their Own, At A Young Age
Let them do things you might take for granted and therefore be tempted to do for them, well past the time you should be stepping in.  Take, for example, ordering their own food at a restaurant. Let them speak directly to the waiter, rather than you speaking on their behalf. Another example is cutting their own meat and/or adding food to their plate at meal time; fixing their own breakfast; tying their own shoes (seriously. Family friends of ours still tie their fifth graders shoes); paying for their own purchases at the store with their own money.

A seven or eight year old can even walk to the park on their own and come back at a prearranged time.

The list can get quite long. The point is to think ahead of time where you do things that they should be doing themselves, and then stepping back when those little moments arise. Let them do these things at young ages. There’s no reason a 6 or 7 year old shouldn’t have experience ordering their own food and interacting with adults in the real world, for example.


Some of this might take coaching and “scaffolding” from you at first, and they might struggle with it right out of the gate. That’s ok! Coach them and let them try again. Do the preparation coaching you need to do at the outset, and then step back. Nudge them out of the nest.

Yes, in one sense they are “little,” but in another, those little moments add up to a big message. Does continuing to do it for them help or hinder building their competence and resilience…their anti-fragility?

Often, without realizing it, our actions in the “little” things are unintentionally infantilizing our kids.

 

5) Visit The Leg Grow Website For Other Ideas
Let Grow is an organization that helps parents to step back and let kids spread their wings.  Their website is great not just for ideas on what to do, but for getting emotional fortitude to let go.

Sometimes, all we need is reassurance that despite clucking from overly judgmental neighbors or school administrators, no, we are not crazy, it’s gonna be ok, and there are more people like us out there.

 

6) Explore The Work Of Jonathan Haidt And Jean Twenge
Haidt is a psychologist out of New York University, while Twenge is a sociologist out of San Diego State University.

Both are at the forefront of understanding the changes that have happened in Gen Z and what has brought them about. Both have produced work that’s necessary reading if you want to grasp the big picture, and/or if you simply need motivation to stay the course. 

You can get a great overview of their work by searching their names on Youtube, and by reading their main books: The Coddling of the American Mind for Haidt (co-authored with Greg Lukianoff) and IGen for Twenge.  In addition, go to thecoddling.com to get follow up data and perspective published after Haidt’s book, and jeantwenge.com for the latest on Twenge’s work.


 

7) Let Your Kids Do Things From This Book

50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do is a great resource for parents looking to help their kids explore the world around them.  Maybe you won’t be comfortable with *all* the activities, but some, definitely--and at the very least it can give you kindling for other ideas you come up with on your own.

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