What emotional and psychological gifts do you wish for children? Perseverance, happiness, kindness, authenticity, compassion, joy? What about resilience? Resilience can be defined as the ability to endure or bounce back from difficulties. Sometimes people define resilience as “toughness,” but true resilience is not impenetrable. In fact, the kind of resilience I am talking about includes compassion and joy.
But just how do we cultivate resilience in children? The answer, of course, begins by cultivating resilience in ourselves. Below I’ve listed five keys to parenting with resilience as well as an example of how each of these keys helped me address an important parenting challenge – my child’s learning disability.
The 5 Keys:
1. Acceptance* – Types of acceptance include self-acceptance, acceptance of your child and/or family, and acceptance of your life circumstances.
- Accepting ourselves, our children and others lays a foundation for unconditional love. If you haven’t yet watched my kiwi bird video, it is a great metaphor for learning to accept ourselves and others as we are.
- Accepting our lives as they are enables us to show up fully, with less resistance and stress.
I do not advocate for acceptance as a form of passive resignation when circumstances are non-optimal. Instead tender acceptance can provide a firm foundation for sustainable growth and change. When my older daughter was having learning difficulties at school, I had to acknowledge her challenge before I could figure out what to do about it. Acceptance allowed me to see that her divergent brain was not a match for mainstream school culture.
*Some people find the word acceptance unpalatable. If so, feel free to substitute the word “acknowledgment,” which is a precursor on the journey to acceptance.
2. Growth – We can complement (self-) acceptance with a desire to grow and change. Sustainable growth and change requires humility. Humility does not mean thinking we are less than others. Quite to the contrary, humility means recognizing that we are on the learning team, just like every other human. It gives us the courage to see that we and our kids have both strengths and weaknesses. Self-compassionate humility can buffer us from defensive and resilience-robbing responses to failure and shame.
Humility allowed me to view both the strengths and weaknesses that accompanied my daughter’s learning differences. The non-linear nature of her thinking was an asset to her creative process, but it was a liability when she was asked to read a block of text or present ideas in a linear sequence. Seeing her divergent brain through a lens of humility allowed me to hold the challenges and gifts side-by-side.
Seeing ourselves and our children as imperfect and beautiful human beings allows us to clearly see the ways that we need to grow and change. This desire to change is stimulated not from a sense of shame or inadequacy, but rather because we love ourselves enough to want what is best for us.
3. Curiosity – What do you do when you and/or your child has a problem that you don’t know how to solve? How do you respond when things are not okay, but you’re not sure where to turn? When panic, confusion, and overwhelm threaten to highjack your brain, curiosity is your ally. Consider the powerful shift curiosity can create: “I wonder how I should respond? I wonder how other parents have addressed problems like this? I wonder who might know more about this kind of thing?” Thinking that there is only one “right way” to solve a problem (and that we are a failure if we can’t find it) is resilience depleting. Wondering about causes, conditions, resources, and potential pathways opens the mind to new possibilities.
I remember well the angst of not knowing how to help my daughter learn to read and process decontextualized academic information. I read books on the topic, talked to professionals and friends, and became curious about how to create a bridge between her way of learning and the school environment. We ended up changing schools, enlisting school support, and hiring outside tutors. It was a long and messy process requiring many of the keys of resilient parenting, including the next one – compassion.
4. Compassion – Stuff happens! Life will go wrong. We and our kids will have problems. Compassion means holding ourselves and others with kindness when we are struggling, and seeking to alleviate suffering whenever possible. Some might think that compassion is the way of weakness; paradoxically it is the main taproot of resilience. If I had to choose only one of the five keys of resilience, it would be compassion. In its tender form, compassion can hold us in our struggles (acceptance), and its strong form it can help us to create positive growth and change. Visit jamielynntatera.com if you’d like to learn more about cultivating compassion and self-compassion in children and families.
Our family needed fierce compassion to find the diagnoses and resources that my older daughter needed for academic success as well as tender (self-) compasion to hold us as she struggled with learning challenges.
5. Soaking in the Good – While struggle is a part of life, so too is beauty. Our negativity bias encourages us to orient toward difficulties, but sustaining resilience requires that we also take in the beautiful moments.
Sometimes we might be afraid to take in the good because good moments can be fleeting. While it’s true that many good things don’t last, it’s precisely because of this that we need to open to their goodness. We are invited to soak in the goodness of our children, ourselves, and our lives as fully as possible so that when the moment passes we retain traces of its goodness. Internalized goodness will make us more resilient when the inevitable challenges of life arise.
The early days of my older daughter’s learning challenges were emotionally draining for her and our family. We had to intentionally remember to focus on her gifts and the places outside of school where she experienced success and joy. After years of interventions, my older daughter now experiences moments of scuccess within the school environment. This past year we were all able to celebrate when she achieved her first report card with straight A’s. Her learning challenges are not over, but we are learning to navigate them with the keys of resilience, including soaking in the good.
When you see this list of five keys to resilience, you might think, “I haven’t mastered those things yet!” Not to worry, you are not alone. The keys are “north stars” on the journey rather than destinations that we can achieve.
If you are cultivating humility (our second key), you will remember that it is essential to be on the learning team. Curiosity (key number three) can help you to discover the next step on your journey. Acceptance and compassion (our first and fourth keys) will be your companions when you inevitably fall short. And when you have those moments that you actually hit the mark, be sure to take in the good (key #5)!
Feel free to reach out to me as you stumble along this brutiful journey of living and loving with resilience.
Your companion on the journey,