There is no way to keep children from experiencing some of the hurt feelings, disappointment, frustration or failure that are a part of natural life. In fact, research has repeatedly shown that doing so can actually cause harm. At the same time, there are many ways of inspiring empathy and resilience in children by supporting productive reactions to these common life experiences. As the research behind recent best-sellers like Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance and Mindset: The New Psychology of Success have shown, children’s ultimate success in life has more to do with perseverance and a willingness to try again after failing than it does innate talent or intelligence.
So, what can you do to help? To start, try listening more and resisting the urge to offer advice. Simply listening to your child’s experiences and acknowledging them is one of the biggest ways of encouraging them to bounce back. When we talk things out, we often plant the seed for finding solutions. Allowing children to talk out their frustrations provides room for emotional repair, which as one expert points out, is not so different from physical healing. It also helps them realize these moments of difficulty are just moments and don’t last forever, which can reinforce their confidence in the future. The same can be said for inspiring them to grow an inner-directed mindset around failure, and look at it as something they have the power to transform by deciding to try again, instead of believing: I failed, therefore I am a failure. Learning how to identify their choices for repair and resolution means they will learn to persevere through disappointment without letting it define them.
Then there are the small, daily ways we can teach our children resilience, in part by building empathy and the ability to put other’s needs ahead of their own. This ranges from teaching them patience and assigning household chores to providing opportunities where they can share their food and possessions. As a parent, modeling these kinds of behaviors is also key, along with encouraging independent decision-making in your children and allowing them the freedom to explore new activities.
What is most encouraging is that resiliency isn’t a biological or fixed trait, instead it can be learned and strengthened over time. Ultimately, imparting these values and coping mechanisms to your children will solidify their inner resources, and create the foundation they need in order to overcome challenges on their own.
Parents, what are some ways you’ve inspired empathy and resilience this week?