7 Things You Can Do To Build Resilience In Your Kids

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Rising rates of anxiety and depression in the young have been a major topic of concern for a few years now.  Many are starting to notice a trend of fragility in youth compared to even 10 or 15 years ago.

It seemed to happen so suddenly and really took many of us by surprise.

As social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains in his book, much of this is the result of environmental changes in society and parenting that took place very quickly, changes that the adults made to the upbringing of the youth that were perhaps well intentioned, but that had unintended consequences.

We all go through periods of struggle--valleys come with the peaks, and there is no shame in struggle, whether physical, emotional, or mental--but resilience, in terms of ability to persevere through trial, is central to the Christian life. If we want our kids to be strong disciples who stand firm in Truth, resilience is a necessary trait.

 

Is there anything parents can do to build resilience in kids, to help them develop grit, helping them become “anti-fragile”?

This is even more important in a negative world where Christians will experience and are experiencing more intense opposition. Withstanding the madness of crowds faithfully requires grit.

 

While kids are human beings with their own wills, and character development is not a simple process with one deterministic input--all that to say, there are no guarantees--the good news is that parents play a big role in shepherding kids in the right direction.

Here are some things you, the parent, can do to help your kids become more resilient. Most of them are not big, momentous occasions, but are constant, in the “little spaces” in life that we can so often neglect:


1) Chores
Yep. Have them contribute to the flourishing of the home on a daily basis with physical labor.

Dirty hands and rolled up sleeves are good for the soul. If they complain, oh well, they’ll live.

There are a ton of character and emotional health benefits to kids doing chores. Don’t wait for them to get older either! As soon as kids can walk, start chores. Start simple (ex: going and getting your socks from the drawer at 2 y.o) and then gradually build complexity and difficulty as they age.

Yes, it might be more efficient and easier for you if you just do the work without their input, especially if they are younger and they might not do the chore well, but consider having them do it anyway, because practice is how anybody--the young included--learn.

The practice is often clunky and full of failure, but that’s part of the process. Short term inconvenience for you, but long term character benefit for them as they gain in skill and competence.

Physical labor is an inescapable part of life; if a person does not have the ability to habitually do what they don’t want to do in the moment, misery will be their lot. Prepare them for adult life by including a regimen of regular chores in their daily routine.
 

2) Let Them Take Risks

There’s recklessness and then there’s taking judicial risks. I’m talking about the latter here.

The problem is that in the name of safety, we put way more things in the first category than really belong there. Sometimes in the long run, our incessant focus on health and safety isn’t actually healthy and safe.

Let your kids take judicial risks, sometimes even encouraging them to do so. In the process, you’ll likely notice their confidence to face the world growing.

There are things we did at their ages without a second thought, and that was just fine. Consider letting your kids do the same.

Let your 8 year old cut fruit with a knife; let your 9 year old walk to school or ride her bike in the neighborhood alone; let your elementary age kids play outside in the front yard without you.

Climb a tree? Go for it!  Go down that crazy water slide? Sure!

There are a ton of examples you can come up with yourself--you get the picture.

As the Let Grow organization says, when adults step back, kids step up.


 

3) Let Them Struggle With Tasks
The tendency is to step in and help or take over the task when we see our kids struggle with something.

For example, we tie their shoes for them when we see them fumble with it, or we pour the cereal for them when little fingers grapple with the task.

This is understandable, but step back more often and let them continue with the task on their own.  Strike a balance, of course, and use your best judgment. The intent isn’t to be callous to them needing a helping hand--the intent is to let the struggle play out so that they develop self reliance skills. Less learned helplessness and more competence/confidence.
 

4) Make A List
Sit down with your kids and have them make a list of tasks and errands they’d like to do but are maybe a little scared to do, and/or things that they’d like to do that might be a little risky. Cooking a meal on their own; crossing the street alone; walking to school without a parent; washing dishes or setting the table.

You can contribute suggestions too. Print it out, post it on the fridge, and cross off items on the list as your kids accomplish those tasks.

Some might take a trial run or two where you are by their side guiding them. That’s ok. Eventually release them to give the task a try on their own.
 

5) Do The “One Hard Thing” Rule
Grit author Angela Duckworth speaks often of the “One Hard Thing” rule she practiced with her kids as a parent--everyone in the family, parents included, had to explicitly choose one hard thing to do, and they *had* to see it through, no quitting.

This is similar to #4 make a list, except the one hard thing chosen should take a while. It should take a longer period of time to accomplish, so the person has to persevere over time to see it to the end.

This teaches the skill of finishing what you start. You can’t quit when things get hard or when you have a disheartening set back.

 

6 Kick Them Out Of The House
Push them out the door to play outside. Sometimes with you, sometimes without you. Again, this is something we did regularly at very young ages. 7,8,9, etc. If they don’t know what to do without you structuring it, throw them some balls and outside toys and let them figure it out.
 

7) Unstructured, Screen-Less Play Time
Create the space for exploration, person to person embodied interaction, and sparks of creativity and innovation by shutting down the screens and avoiding over-scheduling their time.
 

 

In conclusion, changing mindsets can be difficult--it is hard to let go. But in a world that preaches safety Uber Alles above everything else, that constantly plays on and multiplies your fear of the absolute worst, pushing back against the crazy is sorely needed. 

 

If you want them to grow, flourish, and stand firm in this topsy turvy world, don’t let fear be your parenting measuring stick.

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