Raising Resilient Children

As parents, we all want what’s best for our children.

We want them to succeed in school, to have friends and to be good people. And when they fail, we instinctively jump in and try to rescue them.

But rescuing them may not always be in their best interests. "Failure", explains Dr. Aviva Weisbord, executive director of SHEMESH, a program of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, "may be the biggest and best teacher."

“If we want our children to become accomplished, successful adults, we need to help them understand that failure is a part of life,” says Rachael Abrams, outreach specialist at Jewish Community Services (JCS), an agency of The Associated. “No one is perfect. What is more important is to teach our children to accept their flaws and learn from their failures.

From not getting the job we want to being bypassed for a promotion to not being invited to a friend’s party – if we want our children to successfully bounce back when they face adversity, we need to teach them to be resilient.

It’s not always easy. Parents often feel upset or angry when their child doesn’t do well or is left out. “You may become emotional, but you can’t overreact and you shouldn’t always step in and come to the rescue. If they see us overreacting, they will grow up and behave in the same way,” says Abrams.

School and Failure

In our increasingly competitive world, many parents see success in school as paramount to their child’s future. Failure is not an option.

Yet for some kids, school doesn’t always come easy. And if we want them to thrive as adults, we must understand they might fail, but we must teach them the best ways to overcome it.

“By the time some kids with learning issues are done kindergarten,” says Dr. Weisbord,” they already feel they are a failure. It’s stressful for them when they can’t read and the rest of the class is succeeding.”

To help children with learning differences succeed, Weisbord believes that as parents and educators, we need to teach these students, that their child has value and worth. “Reading doesn’t define you or define your IQ. Instead of focusing on that, let’s provide them with the tools – be it a different approach to learning or learning in a different setting -- to be successful.”

That’s a lesson that can also apply to children without learning differences who fail a math test, have difficulty with a Hebrew assignment or get a C on a report card.

“We need to first let them understand that it’s OK. That the assignment or test doesn’t define who they are or what they are capable of accomplishing. It may be a chance for them to recognize they may have to work harder or seek help in a particular area. And it’s an opportunity to let them know that everyone can’t be good at everything. Talk to them about their strengths,” says Abrams.

“Tell them, ‘you may have trouble with math, but she has trouble with playing ball.’ Stop focusing on what’s missing,” adds Weisbord.

Abrams suggests parents can begin that conversation as early as three or four. Helping them understand that can learn from an experience when they don’t do as well as expected, or not do as well as expected, and letting them know you support them is important to their long-term resilience.

Abrams suggests parents look to their children and help them find one or two things they love and get them involved. “We can’t determine their passion; they have to find it themselves. At the same time, it is a disservice for parents to tell their child that everything will work out or they can have whatever they want. As adults we know that no one always gets what they want and situations don’t always pan out the way that we want them to.

If we don’t let them fail as children, it will be much harder when the failure happens on a larger scale as an adult,” Abrams says.

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