Autumn is a time dedicated to harvest, and offers us a chance to reconnect with ourselves, center our attention on family, and recognize what’s meaningful to our lives. As the spirited energy of the summer ends and children return to school, many parents are frantically preparing their child to outshine academically and socially from day one. From making sure they have new attire that will sparkle, tender teachers who will adore them, considerate friends who won’t hurt them, and schedule-filled extracurricular activities that will keep them ahead of the game, back-to-school season can be inspiring yet stressful. Whether you have a toddler just starting preschool or an adolescent entering senior year in high school, here are 7 tips to help your child build resiliency throughout the school year with less stress for both you and your growing child.
Children are curious by nature and want to learn about the world around them. That’s why babies want to mouth everything, toddlers want to touch everything, and young children can’t stop asking “why”. They understand their world through sensory inputs and trial-and-error experimentation. When children receive criticisms for how they’re doing something wrong, they begin to approach their learning with caution. So rather than saying, “You’re kicking the ball in the wrong direction” or “That’s not the right colors for a zebra,” help your child be curious about different ways of doing things. “Let’s see what happens if we kick the ball this way?” or “Oh look at that. What other colors can we use for the zebra?”
Encourage Thinking for The Sake of Thinking
Being able to think logically and reasonably opens the door to a world of possibilities. Critical and creative thinking skills require concept learning – not content learning. For example, to truly understand math, it doesn’t matter that you know 2×2=4. What matters is that you know WHY 2×2=4. Help your child build strong divergent thinking skills needed to understand the whys behind problems by guiding them to their own conclusions and do their own thinking. When you give your child opportunities to answer their own questions rather than simply giving away the answer, they’re able to take accountability for their thinking skills. On the other hand, when you’re doing the work for your child, you take the ownership of the problem-solving from the child and rob them of those “ah-ha” moments needed to be a confident thinker.
Praise Genuine Efforts
Never reward for learning, because learning itself is the reward. When we start giving gold stars for book reading, for example, the value of reading decreases. What we are inherently implying is that you ‘should’ only read when you are rewarded to read. Similarly, when we praise children for things that are expected of them, the value of future praises decrease. You wouldn’t praise or reward a child for going to school because that is what they are supposed to do. Instead praise your child’s efforts for tackling that science project or putting in the time for soccer practice. This will instill the value of determination and endurance, rather than a sense of entitlement.
It’s brutal to see your child uncomfortable. However, it’s worse to see your child struggling daily from discomfort. To build resiliency, we have to increase our tolerance for situations that may be stressful and uncomfortable. Foster this flexibility by allowing your child to sit with the discomfort of not knowing an answer while believing that they will figure it out. This is much more effective in the long run than immediately jumping in to fix your child’s problem and rescue them from experiencing discomfort and stress. When you can’t be comfortable tolerating your child’s discomfort and anxiety, and perhaps become anxious yourself, what you are modeling is that feeling uncomfortable is bad and that it’s not okay to not know an answer. That’s not the message we want to send to children. As a fortune cookie once stated, “Comfort zones are most often expanded through discomfort.”
Let Your Child Fail
Failures are opportunities to learn what solutions work and what doesn’t, which help children to think outside the box. Having this problem-solving ability builds strong divergent thinking skills necessary to conceive multiple alternatives to a dilemma. When you let your child fail rather them overshadowing them from failure, you are giving them opportunities to figure out how to get back on their horse. Life challenges are a part of reality. Having to overcome smaller obstacles early on will give your child the confidence to meet the bigger ones when they do occur. And when that distressing obstacle does come along, more important than getting back on the horse, is how quickly your child is able to get back on. A child who has never failed will take criticisms and future failures harshly, and won’t have the confidence to meet real life challenges.
Believe in Your Child
Never underestimate what your child can or cannot do. When you believe in your child, you’re demonstrating that you have confidence in their capability to achieve what they set their mind to. On the other hand, when you are hesitant, being overly concerned, and questioning your child’s abilities, you’re implying, “I don’t think you have what it takes to overcome this difficulty.” Children often look to parents and other adults they trust for information about themselves. When a young child falls, literally or figuratively, he will first seek the reactions of those he trusts for how to respond to the fall. You can either react with, “OMG. I don’t ever want you trying that again.” or “You’re okay? You can get back up. You got this” Either way, your child will assume what you attribute to them. By believing in your child, you are imparting willpower to their self-image.
Cultivate Authentic Self-Confidence
To do something well, we have to believe we can. Our belief in ourselves is directly influenced by our ability to think. And our thinking skills are cultivated from the “ah-ha” moments that occur through our interactions with the world. In essence, intrinsic self-confidence results from having strong critical and creative thinking skills that foster an “I can attitude” needed for self-esteem. Especially in today’s digital age where everyone seeks external validation through social media likes and followers, children and adults alike are grappling with anxiety, depression, and a poor sense of self-worth. Helping your child develop strong thinking skills will cultivate authentic self-confidence, so he can truly be “The Little Engine That Could.”
For more strategies to help your child build the critical and creative thinking skills that result in authentic self-confidence and resiliency, visit www.LittleThinkersCenter.com.