5 Keys to Resilient Parenting

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.

Rainbow

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,
Jamie Lynn

Six Ways I Fall Short as a Parent (and how self-compassion helps)

Have you ever experienced “imposter syndrome”? Imposter syndrome is when you think that you are not “good enough” to share on a topic or do a particular task because you are imperfect, and your brain tells you the story that your imperfection and doubts make you inadequate, unworthy, a fraud, etc. Interestingly enough, when I consider sharing with parents strategies for helping kids become self-compassionate, I sometimes experience imposter syndrome. I think, “Who am I to share about parenting when I so often fall short?”

It’s true. I do fall short as a parent. And it’s also true that self-compassion helps. We will all fall short in any endeavor that is important to us. What is important to remember is that our imperfections do not negate our strengths, nor do they make us unable to do the important work that we have been called to do in the world.

Even a photo can trigger imposter syndrome in me. Somedays my daughters and I comb our hair and smile…other days, not so much 😉

As I gather courage to share tips for parents, I will challenge my imposter syndrome by sharing 6 ways that I fall short as a parent and six ways that self-compassion makes me strong.

Here’s a list of my parenting shortcomings (not exhaustive, and not even necessarily the most glaring offenders):
1) I sometimes struggle with housework. Ummm… really. We are talking about inside out underwear…which can actually be a great strategy when you are behind on laundry.
2) I am addicted to audio books. I have earbuds in my ears while listening to audiobooks a lot!
3) I can get impatient when my kids interrupt me. My brain tends to be mono-focused, and I don’t shift easily.
4) I have a really hard time listening when my kids talk about things that I consider to be trivial. Small talk in general is a growth edge for me.
5) I work too much (but I love my work, and it helps children!!)
6) I can get easily overwhelmed when life gets busy.

I’m giving myself compassion for numbers five and six, and even one through four. Self-compassion doesn’t mean that we pretend that our weaknesses are “fine” or that we don’t strive to grow and change. Self-compassion means that we meet ourselves with kindness and recognize that we, just like others, are imperfect human beings. Self-compassion both helps me try to grow and change, and also recognize that I’m still loveable when I fall short.

In addition to my weaknesses, I have strengths as a parent. Here are a few of my parenting strengths:
1) I usually show up well for my kids when they are upset.
2) I have awesome strategies for helping kids integrate difficult emotions.
3) I know how to say, “this is too much. I need help.” I can find affordable and/or creative solutions for parenting or household tasks that I find overwhelming (including my housework!!).
4) I let my kids know that I, too, am on the learning team.
5) I am very creative, and I have awesome, creative strategies for helping parents and kids grow mindfulness and self-compassion.
6) And I’m pretty good at loving myself and the other imperfect beings who live in my house.

Please know that when I share tips about how we can help our kids (and ourselves!) when we are struggling, I’m sharing them as a fellow struggling human – with strengths and weaknesses…just like you.

Thanks for accompanying me as we collectively learn to grow, stumble, and love together.

With love,
Jamie Lynn

The Healing Power of Yoga

Have you ever been stuck in a difficult mind loop and unsure how how to get unstuck? Me, too! When a difficult situation or emotion has me spinning, it means that my amygdala has been activated and my prefrontal cortex will be of limited help. What does this mean in lay people’s terms? It means that I need to get out of my own head.

So just how do we do that? I have two favorite strategies. The first is to call a friend and the second is to move my body.

Calling a friend is honestly my easiest and quickest go-to strategy. It’s a great way to “name” my emotions and thought patterns and simultaneously receive compassionate support from another. But what if my friend is unavailabe, or I’ve already called and I’m still spinning? I move my body.

Big movement, especially outdoors, can do wonders for a mind that is beleaguered by stressful thoughts. But big movment is not always accessible-especially if it’s late at night. When my mind is churning, and I’m indoors, I turn to mindful and self-compassionate yoga.

Sometimes I listen to a guided yoga practice, like Mindful Yoga from the MBSR course. Other times I do yoga on my own (see my own guided Mindful Yoga practice below).

Yoga can be a game-changer because it gets me out of my head into my body. Sometimes a situation is too much for my mind to take in on its own, but my body can do the heavy lifting of metabolizing the emotions. When we can calm and center the body, it can calm and center the mind.

The Power of Compassion: The Mountain that Loved a Bird

We live in a culture that encourages us to try to feel good all the time.  We hear the overt and covert messages: Be happy! Overcome struggles! Look on the bright side. What is the problem with such messages? First, it’s not possible to feel good all the time. Telling ourselves the story that we “should” feel happy when actually we feel worried, or sad or disappointed tends to compound difficult feelings. Instead of offering ourselves compassion and soothing ourselves for how difficult it is to struggle, we instead shame ourselves for not feeling good. “Shoulding” ourselves when we feel down is incredibly unhelpful. Another problem with consuming the message that we shouldn’t feel sad or lonely or disappointed, is that it directs us away from the healing power of self-compassion. One way to define compassion is holding sorrow or suffering (our own or another’s) in a tender, loving embrace. When challenging emotions are held with connection and love, our hearts and lives can be transformed in positive ways. There is a children’s story that beautifully illustrates the healing power of compassion: The Mountain that Loved a Bird. Although this touching story by Alice McLerran is now out of print, a small group of children and I have created a play of the story. I highly encourage you to set aside a little time to watch the play below and allow your heart to be transformed.

Four Steps to Help Kids Grow Self-Compassion

Father son pairHow many of us know someone – an adult, teen or child – who could benefit from the resource of self-compassion? We might think, Wow! That person really needs to be kinder to themselves and stop beating themselves up! 

But what is the best way to help another person to develop the resource of self-compassion? When I contemplate this question, I am reminded of the following quote by Albert Schweitzer: “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”

While helping another individual develop self-compassion involves more than just our example, the power of example cannot be overstated. This is expecially true when it comes to children. The process of helping children grow self-compassion involves four steps, which are built upon the foundation of caregivers’ self-compassion.

Four Steps to Help Children Grow Self-Compassion

  1. Caregivers learn the skill of self-compassion either on their own or alongside their child.
  2. Model self-compassion in the presence of children.
  3. Be the external voice that you want children to internalize.
  4. Children learn and practice offering themselves self-compassion.

STEP 1: Caregivers learn self-compassion.

We can’t help children to acquire a skill that we do not possess. That’s why our first step as caregivers is to grow the personal resource of self-compassion. If, when you were a child, your parents modeled self-compassion and also consistently soothed you when you were struggling, lovingly encouraged you to own your mistakes, appreciated your strengths and supported you in becoming your most authentic self, then it’s likely that you already possess the resource of self-compassion. If you are like the rest of us who received parenting that was somewhat less ideal than the above description, you likely need to do some learning and practicing to acquire the skill of self-compassion. You can strengthen your self-compassionate voice by using adult resources such as Mindful Self-Compassion training and books such as the Mindful Self-Compassion workbook, and/or you can take a parent-child self-compassion class and learn alongside your child. 

STEP 2: Model self-compassion in the presence of children.

Modeling self-compassion as caregivers means that we appropriately name our struggles in the presence of children and model giving ourselves encouraging and/or tender support for our difficulties. This might look like giving ourselves a hug or audibly offering ourselves reassurance or support when we feel distressed. We might let kids know that we are going for a walk, calling a friend, or making ourselves a cup of tea as a kind response to our struggles. When we name and model compassionately responding to our struggles we create a bridge between children and ourselves. Our example lets kids know that it’s okay to struggle and that they can seek out support (including their own kindness) during difficult moments. Our self-compassionate example can then be internalized as a model for children to emulate when they struggle. As caregivers, we need to have our own self-compassion practice (step 1) in order to model self-compassion for children.

STEP 3: Be the external voice that you want children to internalize.

When you speak to children, ask yourself the question: Is this the voice that I want my child to internalize? Is this how I want children to talk to themselves in their own minds? Because children internalize the voice of their caregivers (including tone), as much as possible, we want our words to convey compassion – sometimes tenderly soothing and sometimes encouraging and motivating. When we are successful at speaking to a child in this way, our words contribute to the development of a child’s compassionate voice. When we fall short of this aspiration, as we all do, it becomes an opportunity to acknowledge our human imperfection and offer ourselves compassion. We can show children that just like them, we are on the learning team when it comes to treating ourselves and others with kindness.

STEP 4: Children learn and practice offering themselves self-compassion.

Explicitly teaching children self-compassion and scaffolding their practice can sometimes be tricky, especially when teaching our own children, but it is a vital step. Many caregivers find it helpful to use resources, such as self-compassion books or a parent-child self-compassion class to help children consciously learn and practice the skill of self-compassion. After children have learned self-compassion practices, caregivers can begin to gently and selectively encourage self-compassion practice. When a child is having a difficult moment, it usually works best if caregivers first provide the child with compassionate support, and then, if the child seems receptive, invite the child to offer compassion to themselves. It’s important not to push a child to practice self-compassion as this can have an adverse effect. If a child resists practicing self-compassion, it can be helpful to focus primarily on the first three steps described in this article (increase caregivers’ self-compassion, model self-compassion, and use a compassionate voice with children).

It’s important that we, as caregivers, have a long-term view of children’s self-compassion development. We can normalize and offer ourselves compassion when children develop the resource of self-compassion more slowly than we would wish. It’s important that children know that we are learning and practicing self-compassion along with them, and that it’s self-compassionate to allow ourselves to grow slowly over time.