How to Raise a Resilient Child


Will my child be resilient after she leaves me?

When my daughter Heather attended Kalamazoo College for her summer orientation, the parents were invited to attend a series of events. I remember standing on the beautiful, historic grounds of Kalamazoo College and overhearing a mom say to her college-bound son, “Oh, John, I forgot to pack your calculator.”

This struck me as odd, having raised our daughters, Heather and Lauren, in the environment of New Morning School where children are taught from a young age to be responsible for themselves, their belongings, and their learning. Short of “bonding with the credit card” when Heather shared what she needed for this next step, she was on her own when it came to packing for college.

As I considered this mom’s comment to her son John, I realized that there’s a divergence in our two parenting styles. As a parent, my goal is to help develop children with resilience. That means sometimes letting them fail. I remember back to a time when my daughter Heather was about three years old. At the time, the school was quite a distance from our house. We’re driving down the freeway at the end of a long day and Heather starts bellowing, “I forgot my lamb! I forgot my lamb!” I chose not to turn around and fetch the lamb. I let Heather experience the results of her forgetfulness . . . and, she never forgot her lamb again.

It’s not our job as parents to make our children “happy.” It’s not our job to protect our children from failure or frustration. It’s not our job to make sure everything is always “right” and peaceful in our child’s life. It is our job to send the message, verbally and nonverbally, to our children that, “I know you can do it. I know you can handle it.”

Try this the next time your child is frustrated and can’t build the LEGO structure just how he wants it to be. When he asks you to fix it, perhaps ask how else he could build it. Encourage him that his structure doesn’t have to be just like the picture. How would he like to make it? Give guiding questions, but let him do it himself.

The next time your child forgets her lunch, don’t go home and fetch it or stop at McDonald’s. The teachers will assure you that they can find some snacks for your child. You will be helping your child to be resilient – and, she probably won’t forget her lunch again.

Let’s help our children to be responsible and resourceful. Let’s send them the message that “they can” rather than send the nonverbal or verbal message of “I need to help you, because you can’t do it yourself.” Let your preschooler pour his own juice. He’ll get better at it though there will be some spills. Real learning is round about and not always in a straight line.

Help your children to learn that there are sometimes frustrating paths through the woods. Sometimes you need to retrace your steps. Sometimes in the heavy forest there are hazards or scary things along the way. But if you persevere, you will come out into the meadow and enjoy a good time in your life. Isn’t that what we want for our children? Isn’t that what life is about? Making that journey – sometimes straight and easy, sometimes foreboding – but always triumphant in the end.