Resilient Kids: How to Overcome Struggles for Independence
By Roma Khetarpal Contributor
“I eat,” insists the toddler as her mother feeds her morning cereal.
“I don’t want to wear this,” says the preschooler as his dad struggles to dress him for school.
“Why do I have to go to bed at eight?” asks the tween.
“How come you don’t trust me to walk home from school? It’s only a ten-minute walk,” argues the teenager.
Pushes for independence like these are but a few of the real-life situations that every parent is faced with. More often than not, it’s easier to let them pass by taking control and spoon-feeding a two-year-old or by responding with, “Because I said so,” to a teen.
The big question here is how can we take these frustrating times of what seems like rebellion and turn them into teaching moments that can help our children learn, understand, and grow.
This push for exploring their world and stretching boundaries is paramount for our children’s development at every stage of their life. We know that. And we all want our children to be self-reliant and resilient. Yet, when they attempt that, we become shortsighted and simply try to get the task over with. Needless to say, that takes us in the opposite direction of raising our kids to be self-reliant and resilient.
But what builds those traits? The answer is being in-dependent—dependent on our inner selves, our inner strength. The only way for children to understand their own potential and uncover this inner strength is by satisfying their curiosity and testing their will. They must respond to the inner voice that says to them, “I can do this” or “I trust myself enough to walk home safely.”
That voice signals that their intelligence is stepping in and moving them to growth. Interrupting or bypassing that inner voice hinders our children’s embrace of in-dependence. Supporting this inner voice encourages them to rely on themselves. Yes, they may make mistakes and falter, but in that way, too, they will grow and learn resilience.
“But when I have a hundred tasks at hand, I want to be able to call the shots that fit my schedule for the day! Answering my kid’s every whim challenges me emotionally, mentally, and physically—especially on busy days, which for me is every day!” says a mom in one of my Happy Relaxed Parenting classes.
That is very true. We all know that when one is busy it’s a challenge to put things in perspective, be attentive, and parent mindfully. But if we don’t pay heed to our kids’ cries for growth through independence, everything—parent and child and their relationship—will suffer! If you pay a little attention now, you reap the benefits of having your child grow into a self-reliant, resilient, and in-dependent adult. And that’s music to every parent’s ears!
So here are three quick tips from my recently published book, The “Perfect” Parent, that you can easily apply in times of challenges like these:
- Kindness is key. One thing I always remind myself when I’m upset or feel challenged is: When you are right, practice being kind first! We all know what happens when we feel we’re right. Our tone of voice changes. We tend to be more commanding and authoritative. No lesson can be learned when we sound condescending—at any age or in any relationship—especially with children. In contrast, kindness—which I consider the ultimate display of love, patience, and respect—takes us a long way in managing emotions. By not just showing kindness but by truly being kind in a challenging situation, we let our children know that we understand them. Next…
- Listen mindfully. There is a difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is merely the perception of sound; listening is paying careful attention to both sound and source. The key to mindful parenting lies in the transition from one to the other. Absorb the words you hear, and let them flow into your thoughts. If you’re having trouble dialing in, take two deep breaths before you respond. Breathing oxygenates our brain while calming the emotions. This helps your intellect kick in. Always, always, allow your children to finish their sentences and complete their thoughts. If you have the urge to step in, respond with “Hmm, okay, or I understand.” Once you have followed these simple steps, you will have taken a huge step toward effective communication and a positive outcome. Now you’re ready to…
- Reason and Respond. Reasoning allays arguments and power struggles and helps us respond instead of react. How can we showcase our ability to be reason-able and response-able parents? Encourage a dialogue about a challenging issue: “Do you think if you stay up past eight you will be able to wake up on time for school tomorrow?” or “Sure, you can feed yourself. Go ahead, give it a try.” When we open our hearts and our minds to what our children are saying, we build trust and confidence in our parent-child relationship. Take another deep breath if you feel short of patience, or have a sip or two of water. That always helps calm emotions and helps us guide our children to being self-reliant, resilient, and ultimately independent.
I’m often asked about age-appropriate independence and whether any general rules apply. A child’s safety is paramount. Beyond that, every child is unique in his or her individual capacity to satisfy curiosity and manage independence. My rule of thumb has always been: If they’re sincerely asking for it, it is my obligation to be open to it. My son, an avid basketball fan, taught me early on to live by Michael Jordan’s words: I accept failure; everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.
Encouraging that determination to try, despite the outcome, starts at home, with us—the parents—by allowing children to try new things: walking home from school for a teenager, letting a preschooler pick a different outfit, trying a new bedtime for a tween, or encouraging toddlers to feed themselves.
When you apply these tools, you will not only have taken challenging moments and turned them into building blocks for independence but also harnessed the gift of trust and understanding—the cornerstones of a lasting relationship with your kids!
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