Anxious Parents: Raise Resilient Children

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In my last article, “Anxious Parents: Are We Raising Anxious Children?” I reviewed taking a look at ourselves as parents and asking the question

– are we anxious?

If so, are we passing that anxiety down in our everyday parenting? Preparing that article forced me to self-reflect and take a look at the language I use with my kids in interpreting new situations or adventures, or social interactions. As a parent, I am sometimes scared, and I try to protect my kids, too.

Due to our fear and our desire to help lessen the experience of fear and give our children continuous happy days,  we are building a generation of children who are fragile and anxious because they don’t carry the message, “I can” or “If I can’t right now, I’ll figure out how to do it.”

Resilience, defined

What exactly is resilience? Well, according to Merriam-Webster, (yup, I hit the dictionary!), resilience is the ability to take a situation or emotion that is difficult and work through it. The flip side of that is to not work through it or to withdraw or isolate. For example, if one of our kids is feeling that he can’t join a group or that they are not giving him the ‘welcome’ signal, being resilient means finding another way to join that group, using humor to join the group,  or inviting people to join him instead.

The key difference between a resilient and non-resilient child is one in which, after finding a situation to be difficult, the child is able to pick up and move forward again. Maybe not today, but perhaps tomorrow. In Cognitive Behavioral terms (CBT), it’s maintaining the cognitive schema of, “I may not have been able to join the group today, but I will try again tomorrow. Things will get better. I’m not the only one who feels this way.”

Everyday Language and Strategies

It’s Okay if Your Child Fails

Failure is one of the hardest things to do, as we have always made things better for our children from the beginning of their lives. Instead of ‘making it nice’ all the time, let’s teach them the skills, coach them, and trust they will make the decisions – but not all the time.  It’s okay to let your child try out for the school play or the soccer team, and the outcome is, he didn’t make the team.  Resilience is allowing your child to try, not achieve their goal (and let’s face it, we’ve choreographed the outcomes of most of their lives to be positive), and then helping your child to re-assess his game plan. That’s resilience. Try, fail, re-assess.

When they’re younger, allowing children to fail will be easier than if you wait until they are older and they are used to winning.  We don’t want to see our child disappointed or experience emotional pain, but that’s what builds resilience. Having these experiences of sometimes-you-win, sometimes-you-lose are the building blocks to resilience. Otherwise, never failing breeds anxiety and a low self-concept that “I can’t” – especially if my mom or dad isn’t around to fix it.

Our goal as a parent is to help our child build a realistic perspective of a situation and potential outcomes. Sadly, we have created a beast, because, at the end of every sports season, everyone gets a trophy.

Encourage Problem Solving

Another thing that we do for our children is problem solve for them. We identify the problem before our children do, and we are already making phone calls, sending emails, and dictating texts. As parents, our job is to help our children become problem solvers. How do we do that?  Ask questions.

Instead of telling your child to email his teacher about his missed homework assignment, ask him what he thinks he can do to make it up.  Instead of giving our children the answers – stop, pause, and say, “I don’t know what would happen if you didn’t get an A on your Math test. What do you think would happen?”  Allow your child to hear his irrational thoughts that a low Math grade in 5th grade will result in not being accepted into college.

I often encourage parents to say, “Hmmm, John, I’m not sure what would happen if you didn’t make the soccer team? Do you think you could try another sport? Is there any other option for you if you didn’t make the soccer team?”

Allow Your Child to Sit With Uncertainty

We all want answers, and specific ones at that. We want to know if it’s going to rain or not tomorrow. But, what if the forecast predicted sunshine, and you woke up in the morning, and it was raining? You may sigh for a moment and then re-plan your footwear and jacket for the day.

Our children also want answers from us. Definitive answers. And we give them those answers as if we can control the outcomes of the universe. But we can’t, and we are giving our children a false sense of security. So, in those moments when we are wrong, our children fall apart, and we scurry to ‘make it better,’ or better yet, ‘make up for it.’

For many of our anxious children, they have fears, sometimes irrational and sometimes real. For example, an anxious child may fear vomiting at school, or not accomplishing a goal of her choice. Instead of reassuring your child that “You won’t vomit at school today,” say, “Maybe you will, and maybe you won’t. What’s your plan if you do throw up?” This will encourage your child to set up a plan and be ready in the case she does vomit, and to sit with the possibility of vomiting until it’s no longer uncomfortable. Over time, that worry will decrease, and you will have helped your child to sit with the unknown.

Implement these strategies into your every day, and you will find that your children will have less dependence on you, a stronger sense of self, self-efficacy, and a sense of resilience!

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Dr. Liz Matheis is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist who specializes in assisting children and their families with Autism, ADHD, Anxiety and learning/behavioral disorders in Parsippany NJ. Dr. Liz was trained at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison and Teaneck, where she earned her BA in Psychology, MA, and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.

In her private practice, she has four therapists who provide after school and evening hours. Stephanie Fredericka, LCSW, Nicole Filiberti, LSW, Michelle Molle-Krowiak, Ed.S., LCSW & Chrissy Sunberg, M.Ed., AAC are a welcomed addition and provide specialization in CBT, Art & Play Therapy, Grieving, Trauma, In-Home ADHD Coaching, and use of the Sand Tray Therapeutic Technique.

Dr. Liz focuses on well-aligned parenting styles via parent coaching, helping parents who are divorcing or divorced to maintain a co-parenting relationship, creating a consistent home environment, and the establishment of boundaries and behavioral expectations in helping children and families to realize their fullest potential. She also serves as an Educational Consultant to parents who are seeking to optimize their child’s IEP, and need support and advocacy to maximize their child’s special education program and related services. As a former School Psychologist on the Child Study Team, Dr. Liz also provides psycho-educational evaluations that are Child Study Team friendly.

At present, she is a contributor to a number of popular press magazines, radio, and blogs, where she is able to provide real-world, pragmatic solutions to complex problems. To learn more, visit www.psychedconsult.com or email at [email protected].

The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog contributor’s. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Writers may have conflicts of interest, and their opinions are their own.

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