How To Teach Your Kids To Thrive

When I think back to my kids when they were babies, I can't help but believe that kids are just born resilient.

Of course, then we start to parent them and I also think that some of our current parenting ideas and practices are corrosive to that natural resiliency. Often parents talk about not being sure when to intervene in their child’s problem. I guess my main issue is that under current parenting practices, intervention seems to translate to ‘fixing the problem’.

Don't get me wrong though, I truly empathise. I am right there beside you in my fierce love for my children and the discomfort of sitting back as a parent and watching them figure it out and be exposed to uncomfortable things.

But trust me: they need failure to thrive. How do I pass these lessons on?

  1. I highlight anything I royally fudge as a parent. If I spill, break, drop, ruin, etc., anything - I’ll call the kids in to show them and then show them how to fix it. This takes the fear out of getting things wrong.

  2. We play board games like Snakes’n’Ladders that give rapid exposure to winning and losing. We don't play games where everyone wins because this has no real life application. Co-operative games however are ok, because they do teach real-life skills like teamwork.

  3. I try to reward effort not outcome so I say things like, “Yes, I’m happy you won the game I’m proud of the effort you put in to make that happen.”

  4. I call losing “losing.” It’s not coming second, it’s not “everyone’s a winner.” It's losing. And that's okay because I also teach the kids to celebrate other winners. 

  5. We talk about and name all those big ugly feelings (fear, doubt, jealousy, anger, shame, disappointment, etc.) because these emotions as normal and even necessary in helping us to move from one situation to the next. For example, “In order to learn to swim, you’re going to experience frustration and boredom at times, but it means by summer, you’ll be able to swim independently on our beach holiday.”

  6. Importantly, we teach kids to breathe and problem-solve. As SCUBA divers, it was drilled into us to STOP BREATHE THINK ACT in any emergency situation and that process helps me in all sorts of things every day. This is very different from solving the problem for them. It is critical that resilient children start to develop ownership in the problem-solving process.

  7. Demonstrate resiliency yourself: “Daddy tried a new marketing strategy today and it cost a lot of money with no return. I failed". My kids need to know I am human and that I make mistakes. But more importantly, that I own up to them, learn from them and keep moving forward.

  8. Don’t intervene too early. Many parents (myself included) struggle to know when to intervene in their child’s problems and level of risk can be hard to gauge. There are obvious risk areas that require rapid, parent intervention and protection. But for the less clear situations, sitting with your child’s discomfort in figuring it out can often mean sitting with your own discomfort as a parent. Talking to a supportive other to know when to intervene at these times may be really handy.

You've heard it before - "failure is our greatest teacher". We learn best from our mistakes; and as humbling, shameful, anxiety provoking, and embarrassing as those moments can be, they serve as powerful learning experiences. Of course, you can't "fake" these things so you have to take naturally occurring tragedies/accidents/mistakes/traumas in life and show your children how important it can be to fail in order to thrive.