WHAT is causing 21st-century kids to morph into what researchers have called bubbles apt to burst at the slightest smattering of adversity?
Experts believe the answer lies among millions of well-meaning parents positioning themselves as human shields between their kids and disappointment and pain.
Take the following representative scenarios in which parents unintentionally hinder the development of resilience in their children:
During recess, nine-year-old Molly and her two best friends, Lauren and Sophie, decide to play a round of freeze tag. When Lauren announces Molly is it, Sophie concurs. When Molly begs to differ, Lauren and Sophie insist that either Molly be it or she cant play at all.
Later that afternoon, Molly recounts the playground saga to her mother. Within milliseconds, Mollys mom is engaged in a three- way conference call with Lauren and Sophies moms discussing the problem.
Josh worked super hard on his spelling homework last night. He dotted every i and crossed every t. Except one, that is he forgot to put his homework in his backpack.
The next morning, after Joshs carpool pulls off, his mom notices the homework on the kitchen counter. Not wanting her son to get in trouble, she hightails her way to school and delivers the spelling assignment safe and sound before the first period bell.
Ben wants to play catcher for his little league team. He thinks the equipment is really cool and hes not at all interested in playing his current position in right field. Unfortunately, the coach feels Ben isnt quite ready to play catcher and gently explains that if he practices really hard, hell likely be ready to take a whirl at the coveted position by mid-season.
Later that evening Ben recounts the story to his parents, proclaiming he has the worst, most unfair coach ever. Upon hearing this emotional plea, Bens dad calls the coach and implores him to let his son play catcher during the next game.
CLEARLY Molly, Josh and Bens parents didnt set out to negate prime resilience-building opportunities.
They were only trying to help their kids. But the reality remains that if our children are going to grow into the next generation of comeback kids, wetheyre going to need a few practice rounds.
Rather than attempting to eliminate our kids problems altogether, therefore, we serve them much better by helping them understand that occasional hurt, frustration and disappointment are all part of growing up.
Although while were happy to provide them with hugs and moral support, we have full confidence in their abilities to handle their difficulties competently and independently.
(Of course, if our parent gut is telling us our childs problem is more than a passing concern or red flags such as extreme stress, chronic depression or anxiety are present a call to a pediatrician, school counselor or other professional is likely in order.)
SO in the name of ensuring the next generation of comeback kids, here are some hints toward turning the stock knocks of childhood into meaningful resilience building opportunities:
When I was your age:
If our child is faced with a challenging situation in the schoolyard (for example), share memories of your own playground plights. Ask grandparents and other relatives do the same. In doing so, youll help him understand that childhood hardship is both universal and highly survivable.
Get two for the price of one:
If your kid is the type to offer up daily rundowns of her woes and worries, strike a deal where for every problem she reports she should share two positive events. This will help keep the problems in perspective for both parent and child.
Change the subject:
Rather than attempting to talk out every one of your childs difficulties, try changing the subject to a happier topic. If the issue comes up again, youll know it likely deserves more attention.
Have confidence in our forefathers (and foremothers):
As our ancestors knew, fostering resilience in our children is among our most important responsibilities as parents. Despite societal belief to the contrary, we should feel confident in letting our kids have a go at lifes everyday hurdles. For in doing so will we gear them to jump lifes inevitable big ones with the grace of Mordecai and Esther.