Teaching Children Resiliency
Take My Breath Away (Or Knock the Wind Out of Me)
The Difference is Resiliency
A vivid childhood memory involves a bicycle and a sunny day, ingredients for a carefree summer afternoon in my hometown in Ohio. I recall sailing down the sidewalk on my new, beloved green Schwinn bicycle. Who knew I would come face-to-face with a mailbox – and resiliency all in the same day?
I loved that bike. It was 26″ and had a basket and a bell! I rode with a feeling of total abandon. Overhead were flocks of birds winging their way to some leafy sanctuary. Bits of broken colored glass in the street sparkled in the bright sunlight, transforming the road into an imaginary sea of diamonds.
Giddy with excitement, I shook my head and let the wind lift my long hair into the air, surely giving passersby the illusion I was flying. Peddling at dizzying speeds, I defied the cracks in the concrete sidewalk and the occasional rock that might puncture a tire. Completely exhilarated, it seemed that nothing could dampen the pure joy of this experience.
I was completely involved in the moment. Isn’t that how we usually miss problems looming ahead?
So totally involved in the moment, I didn’t see the big mailbox perched on the edge of the sidewalk, directly in my path. My green Schwinn and I went from happily sailing along one second to a dead stop a second later. When my tire connected with the metal box, I remember wondering, “Wow, what just happened?” Completely out of control, I could only watch in slow motion as the wheel turned sharply, driving the handlebar into my ribs.
The bicycle and I hit the pavement in one large, humiliatingly painful heap. I was pretty far from home, unable to breathe well, scratched up, and my tire frame was bent. I pushed my bike home, crying, more from the damage to my beloved green Schwinn than from the pain.
More Resiliency Lessons?
Thinking about this event recently, I realized that wasn’t the last time life knocked the wind out of me. Each time it happened, I wondered the same thing, “Wow! What just happened?” One moment, life was great and people and plans made sense. The next moment, my world came to an abrupt halt.
Have you noticed something like that in your life?
The very nature of being human is that there are carefree, breezy, sunlit mountaintop experiences and bone-crushing, knock-the-wind-out-of-you valley experiences. For me, getting through the hard times is possible because God is always there. I’ve learned to lean on the strength I don’t have and couldn’t muster up alone.
How about our kids who face very challenging times? Besides a knowledge of God and His protection over us, what skills do we want them to develop so they can survive all that life offers up in the way of mountaintop highs and mailbox-type-low surprises? One is Resiliency.
I want them to be resilient people even as children.
According to www.dictionary.com, resilience is “the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity. 2. ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy. “
Because we know that life is sometimes like a knock-down-drag-out event, I want our kids resilient, yes, but I want them to do more than bounce back from a tragedy.
- It’s more than resiliency.
- It’s coming back higher, stronger – having learned lessons
- It’s having more confidence after a tragedy than they had going into it.
Parents teach resiliency long before major life events hit their kids in the face.
That happens by
- Teaching them to part with their belongings early – otherwise known as sharing.
- Teaching them to care for other people when they are hurting.
- Donating their clothes and toys.
- Placing others’ needs before theirs (difficult even for adults)
- Teaching them instead of relying on others to get, to do, to fix or to find things for them, they need to do that themselves. We don’t realize it, but that action alone helps them set goals for themselves.
- Avoiding running to help them complete tasks that might be a bit above their competency level. Let them try. They may fail, but they will never succeed if you jump in and save the day.
Also, practice on the small events in their lives:
I lost my doll’s shoe.
The dog hid my baseball glove.
My best friend is moving away.
And as they get older: My boyfriend broke up with me.
My transmission went out.
These are all very real problems that could deflate a kid or could give them an opportunity to learn and practice resiliency.
So what would I do to teach children resiliency after a life event happens?
- Generally, I would sit down with them, offer comfort, ask them to breathe slowly with me to the count of 10 if they will.
- Don’t diminish the loss. Instead, I acknowledge the loss with them and let them talk it out.
- Eventually, maybe days later, I ask them what they think might make them feel better about the loss or if they can live with it, learn from it, and thrive if life never went back to the time before the event.
- Then we tackle the problem with the child doing most of the input. Should it be solved? Who can do that? Can it be solved now? Could it be solved in the near future? What can you do to make it feel like you are recovering from this loss?
This isn’t the time to say, “I’ve told you to keep your doll’s clothes together” or “Put the glove where it belongs and the dog won’t find it” or “I never really liked that kid anyway.” It might be SO tempting to pull out the “I told you so” card, but ix-nay on that one.
This is the time to support them, show them ways to cope with the loss, help them problem solve and encourage them for the attitude they developed through this loss.
With something like the doll shoe, I would encourage the child to find it and support her efforts but don’t hunt for it myself. She will learn more from looking for it and maybe finding it, than she will from letting mom do it. Eventually it will show up or be sucked up in the vacuum, thus solving the mystery.
As for the baseball glove, unless the dog ate it, which makes the dog your first concern here, there is no reason for your child to stop looking. And without saying anything about it, he/she may just put it where it belongs next time.
In theory, the next losses will become easier to handle because you have built a good foundation with them. Little by little, one step at a time.
So, turn your face to the wind, people, and peddle like there’s no tomorrow, knowing that you can face those mailbox surprises or other obstacles as you travel down life’s road. And with consistent practice, your children can too!
WAY TO GO PARENTS! I’m proud of you!
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