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No parents want to see their child in pain, and most parents will do everything in their power to protect their children from any sort of  suffering. But how do we raise a balanced child with self esteem, respect, and resilience that can handle the pressures of being an adult in the future? 

Most adults have plenty of war stories about the tough times in their childhoods, and most of us, if we were honest, are pretty grateful for most of it as it’s shaped us into the awesome humans we are today. Only problem is it’s made us so strong that we foresee danger and every fibre in our body wants to ensure our kids never endure the hurt that we went through. But are we robbing them of building their own growth and resilience?

The big one for me is I’ve been protecting my kids from toxic relatives that I don’t want to emotionally scar my children. I’ve wanted to ensure my kids never feel the pain of disappointment, or the pain of rejection, or the confusion of having a relative that lives very differently to you.  But I have realised I am making a big mistake, that I am robbing my children of moments to learn what is good and bad in life, and skills and strength of character to get through the tough times in life, and of course the motivation to want more from their life than I am able to give them.

As a child I certainly learnt what I think is good and bad, and what I do and don’t want in my life. And I have been very motivated to live a different life to how I was raised, and I have certainly built up a huge resilience to life’s down moments. But I worry that my kids have not been learning these skills because I have been protecting them so fiercely.

Sure, I in no way will put my children in any sort of danger, and I am going to be extremely challenged internally if I subject them to any sort of pain and suffering. But as they say, strength and growth only comes through continuous effort and struggle. And this is why we have to watch our kids struggle – even if we can fix it, we really shouldn’t.

We aren’t born with resilience, you can only grow resilience through, I hate to say it, pain and suffering. Think of resilience as a rubber band. You get stretched and don’t think you can stretch any further, but then you spring back stronger than ever.  A rubber band knows it’s limits so that it doesn’t snap and it can spring back and forth many times and hold things together. But if a rubber band is never stretched until it’s older, it will likely snap the first time.

So in a nutshell, we need to get comfortable with making our kids uncomfortable, and able to deal with the uncertainty of life. How can you help your child build resilience, problem solving skills and the ability to deal with the uncertainty of life?

Here are 10 ways

1. Don’t solve all of of your child’s problems

Kids lost their teddy that you said to leave at home, or forgot their drink bottle on a day out, or forgot their instrument for school? The only way they will learn and not do it again is if we don’t fix it.

2. Don’t over protect your kids

Like I said earlier, I have been protecting my kids from certain toxic relatives and people as I don’t want them to emotionally harm or disappoint my kids. But the only way they will learn that Aunt Betty drinks to much and that it’s not good to be like aunt Betty is if they work that out themselves and come to you with questions to discuss. Kids within reason, need to be able to make decisions around what they think about people. My alcoholic uncle taught me a lot, thus I rarely drink as an adult.

3. Don’t satisfy your child’s every need

Going without, and working towards things is the only way our children learn the value of a dollar. If our children are like caged lions that just get fed every day, then they will laze around licking themselves expecting everything to fall at their feet. If, however, their every need isn’t being met, they will hunt, and they will learn new skills. Sometimes they will go hungry, but they will try harder to avoid ever going hungry again.

4. Teach your kids about risk

Marbles, Pokemon cards, and board games are all great ways for kids to learn about risk. My dad taught me a lot about risk through his love of gambling, and we would often play cards. He was ruthless, but it meant that when I won, I earnt it. And when I lost, I would go away, lick my wounds and losses, and work out how to do better next time. If your kids always play safe, they will never push themselves. Sure, don’t get them into gambling, but pull out some board games and teach them how to risk and lose, and risk and win – there are lessons in both.

5. Teach your kids how to problem solve instead of giving them the answer

Baking, homework, and lego have been great ways for my kids to learn problem solving skills. Pancakes aren’t fluffy- what do you think went wrong? You got these questions wrong in your homework – do you know why? Get your kids to think, even asking questions like “why do you think the ocean is salty” will give you a good laugh and insight into the beautiful way your children think. When they ask a question don’t just give them the answer – answer in a way that incites their curiosity and motivates them to think and seek the answer out themselves.

6. Ask “How” instead of “Why” questions

It frustrates me more than anything when people say “why did you (insert behaviour)” and the child responds “I don’t know”. Instead ask ‘how’ questions, like “you forgot to shut the gate and the dog has escaped, how are you going to fix that?”. To which hopefully they’ll respond with a suitable answer such as “I’ll go look for them”. Another ‘how’ question is “how will you make sure that doesn’t happen again?” ‘How’ questions are much more productive than ‘why’ and will help them develop responsibility.

7. Encourage your kids to make mistakes

We tend to learn more from failure than success. Like in point four, we need to encourage our kids to risk, but we also need to get them comfortable with failure. If they are failing, despite trying to succeed, it means they are pushing themselves and will learn from experience. If they are cruising and everything comes easy, then life is too comfortable and little is being gained.

8. Teach your kids how to manage their emotions

Failing, suffering, and being in pain can make you lose your mind, temper, and general outlook on life. Emotional management is the key to resilience. Teach your kids that it’s ok to feel sad, angry, and hurt, or any emotion for that matter. Having these feelings is normal, but it’s resilience that will help them recover, learn, and move on. Lost the soccer match and you are sad – “I understand you are sad, I’d be sad too, now you can think about what happened and how to improve – have you got any ideas?”

9. Don’t over sensationalise to make a point

We’ve all done it. “If you don’t take this medicine I will have to take you to the hospital because you will get sicker!” Stick to the facts – “You need to take this medicine to make you better”.

10. Be a great role model

My kids have seen me get knocked down and get back up again, or hurt and in tears more times than I’d hoped. But we always talk it through, and they know that I try my hardest and that sometimes it doesn’t pay off, or that people don’t treat me right and it hurts my feelings too. This shows our kids that even adults hurt sometimes and that we get back up again and try harder.

Resiliency helps kids navigate the inevitable trials, triumphs and tribulations of life, and gives them the tools and confidence to know that they can handle whatever life throws at them. It’s imperative we get rid of the obsession of giving our kids the perfect childhood, because resilient kids become resilient adults who are able to survive and thrive in the face of life’s ups and downs.

Learn more from Bree and our parenting and family experts at the PakMag Parents Podcast