6 Things I Tell My Kids to Encourage Resilience

I’m a human parenting three distinctly unique humans, we are all making mistakes and encountering problems (some self-created) on the daily. But how we approach those challenges — and ourselves in relation to them — is key. Do we allow ourselves to get stuck? Or do we find a way forward?

Sometimes we humans get so focused on what isn’t working that we become incapable of seeing the solution. We may even completely surrender our own power for the role of situational victim. However, more often than not, if we just take a deep breath, zoom out, and look at the issue with an eye, not toward the problem, but toward the solution, we can find a positive outcome. And, in doing so, we regain our power.

These are some key phrases I say almost daily to encourage resilience in my children.

1.” If what you’re doing isn’t working, try doing it a different way.” My son was struggling to maneuver a scooter up a steep hill. Over and over again, his little 5-year-old legs would push-glide 3/4 of the way up the incline and, just at the steepest point, he’d come streaking down the slope. “It’s unpossible!” He finally declared in a fit of kindergartener angst. I knelt down and told him that I knew it was frustrating and saw him trying, then said, “If what you’re doing isn’t working, try doing it differently.” He took a deep breath, looked at the path, then began walking his scooter up the hill. He reached the top and grinned. All it took was a shift in approach, and isn’t that so very much the case in life? Often we get stuck in patterns of behavior that do nothing but derail and frustrate us. We keep repeating the same steps, same words, same actions (or reactions), and keep getting the same undesirable results. Just as often, all it takes to propel us towards our desired outcome is a change in our method. It could be as simple as holding the paper differently, mounting our bike on the curb, rewording our sentence, or changing one element of our morning routine, but that minute shift can make all of the difference.

2. “Look around you for your answer.” My sparkly son is quick to learn math, but spelling is his struggle point. When he’s writing, he’ll often ask me how to spell a word. So, I’ve begun to tell him to look around the room to see if there is a place where the word he’s looking for might be written. Is the desired word always neatly scrolled across a world map or included in a book? Not always, but it’s important for him to think of ways to solve the problem without relying on me or technology. And sometimes, the mere act of literally shifting focus brings about the recollection of how to spell the word or inspires substitution with a suitable synonym. He regains his power by solving his own problem. Sometimes all we need to do is look around to see more clearly.

3. “If you say you can’t, you can’t.” The mind is a powerful thing, as are words. When my daughter was learning to ride a bike, every time she said, “Mommy, I can’t!” She’d fall. Every. Single. Time. And when she didn’t say it, she didn’t fall. So, we banned the use of, “I can’t.” After all, telling ourselves that we can’t do something is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If doubt or fear is too much to stomach a heartfelt, “I can,” go with a solid, “I can try.” Flip the script and the trajectory all in one step!

4. “Don’t tell me the problem; ask for the solution.” “Mommy, I’m hungry.” How many times do we here that every day? One day, I realized that that simple and frequent statement was removing problem resolution practice for my children and tasking me with mind reading. Did they want an apple, an orange, a granola bar? Was this a ploy for midday treats? Instead of falling into the guessing game pattern, I began handing the responsibility back to them. “Don’t tell me the problem; ask for the solution.” I remind them. Now, of course this isn’t applicable to all problem scenarios, but simple situations like, “I’m bored”, “I’m hungry”, “I’m tired”… those are perfect opportunities to train thought towards solution rather than stagnating on the problem.

5. “Think outside of the box.” One morning, my daughter was struggling with a drawing section on a worksheet. It just wasn’t coming out the way she wanted, and I could see that she was spinning around the problem, positioning herself to get mired in a self-defeating cloud of negative self-talk. I asked if she wanted a hug, told her I understood that she was upset, then reminded her to, “Think outside of the box.” How could she get creative and solve the problem? We thought about ways of tweaking the drawing so that the blips were boons, but it wasn’t feasible. Instead, she decided to paste a blank piece of paper over the drawing portion of the worksheet and start fresh. She was, literally, breaking out of the printed box and creating her own solution! This happens to us so often in life. We make a mistake and think we have to scrap everything because it didn’t go as planned. But why waste an opportunity to be creative, when we can upcycle our mistakes? We shouldn’t hinder ourselves — or our children — because of perceived limitations. If we expand our minds and aim for creative thought, we are not just problem solvers and creators, we are turning that “mistake” into a masterpiece.

6. I believe in you. This. Is. Key. I tell my children this every day. I believe in them deeply and truly. I believe they can climb the hill, learn a new skill, conquer self-doubt, solve the problem, overcome fear, pursue goals, move towards positive outcomes. I believe wholeheartedly in them as unique individuals with hard-won and innate skills, as well as personal growth opportunities. They know this. They know that just as I love them unconditionally as individuals, my belief in them is unending. This awareness of my love for and belief in them inspires a belief in themselves. And that self-confidence is pivotal for resilience.

What do you do or say to inspire resilience in your own children?

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