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Developing Resilient Teens - It’s Never Too Early to Start

Parents strive to support children to grow into capable, independent adults. Our children will face many bumps along their journey into adulthood (as we all do), and we want them to be able to manage those troubling times. Part of a parent’s job is to develop resiliency in our teens. One definition of resiliency is “the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.” If we want resilient teens, then we need to start building up their resiliency while our kids are still kids. 

Starting early makes things easier on our kids when childhood ‘difficult conditions’ are relatively low risk. For example:

  • Losing ice cream when it drops out of the cone they were waving around

  • Waiting until after dinner to have a treat

  • Practicing piano before heading out to play

  • Going to bed at bedtime when they would rather play

How do kids learn to withstand these situations? Well, first they have to be allowed to experience them. It can be tough for parents to watch their kids struggle, feel sad, or feel disappointed. Parents want to ‘give their kids the opportunities they never had.’ If your child’s ice cream falls, buy another cone. If your child can’t wait to have a treat until after dinner, let them have one now and then one after dinner. If your child won’t go to bed, let them read in their bed with the lights on. Your kid will eventually fall asleep and reading is a good thing, right?

Today’s society is information-rich, experience-poor. Technology allows humans to learn about so much without having to experience it first hand. Kids learn all about baking cupcakes from an app – they mix the batter, bake, and ice the cupcakes, all on a screen. They know how to bake a cupcake, but a screen version doesn’t allow them to experience actual baking. For example, they don’t know how frustrating it can feel when an eggshell drops into the cupcake batter, or when the cupcakes don’t rise properly, or when the icing slides off because the cupcakes didn’t cool. In order to gain that experience, they physically have to bake the cupcakes.

The same goes for learning how to withstand difficulties. It is only when we set a parenting intention of allowing kids to experience these difficulties that they learn what happens when things don’t go their way: they may cry, they may get angry. These are feelings. Kids learn that feelings change and that they can get through these yucky feelings and move on to something better.

So what do we do when they are struggling? We guide them through: “Wow, you are feeling really frustrated. How are you going to deal with those feelings?” “It’s okay to cry that sadness out. Do you need help, or are you doing okay?”

In our busy world, it often feels easier just to solve the problems for our kids, but that drains their resilience and teaches them that they need to rely on us for everything. Instead, take the time to teach your kids how to tie zip a zipper or pour the milk into their own cereal bowl. Even if they struggle, this helps them to learn how to problem-solve.

Let’s not forget, teens still need us to parent, and to hold them accountable. Becoming an adult is a process - and so is parenting. When we start our child’s journey toward independence early, we can provide many opportunities to slowly, at an age-appropriate pace, build their resilience to adverse situations so that resilience is available to them in their teens and beyond. We won’t be able to teach them how to solve every problem they will ever face in life, but we can teach them that they are capable of recovering from those bumps along the way and to always keep moving forward.

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