Much has been written about the habits and characteristics of high-achieving adults, and how they differ from everyone else. But if you're a parent, a more compelling question may be: "What can I do to make sure my kids succeed in life?" According to researchers, one attribute that certainly helps: resilience. Instead of being victims, resilient people see themselves as being in control of their destinies. As a result, they tend grow and get better when bad things happen, instead of crumpling.
There are things you can do to build the resilience muscle in your kids. That's according to Stephanie Marston, psychotherapist, stress and work-life expert, five-time author, corporate consultant and co-author of Type R: Transformative Resilience for Thriving in a Turbulent World. Here are her words on how to help children build what she calls Transformative Resilience (TR)--or a "Type R" personality--to not only survive but thrive in a turbulent and rapidly changing world.
1. Let your kids see you be an agent of change rather than a passive complainer.
Parents are the architects of the family--they set the tone, particularly when children are young. Children, especially young children learn by example. To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, who we are and what we do speaks louder to our kids than anything we say. Increasing Transformative Resilience in children requires showing them that the adults in their lives are consistently able to pick themselves up in the face of setbacks. That's an attitude and behavior they're going to adopt.
2. Help kids manage their emotions.
Learning to respond empathically to our children's emotions is critical in helping raise Type R kids. When children are upset they need a place to vent their feelings. Feelings which are denied come out later as temper tantrums, hitting or bad dreams. Conversely, when children express emotions, adult empathy helps them not only to feel understood, but to feel as if they have an ally who respects them. For it to work, though, you need be fully present and give your undivided attention.
3. Let them make mistakes.
Experimentation and learning are essential as kids build their skills. Making mistakes is an integral part of the process. If your child fails at something it doesn't mean that they are a failure, it gives them information about what not to do in the future.
4. Help them develop their "struggle muscle" by taking responsibility for their choices.
Teaching children to confront challenges and find solutions sets important precedents and cultivates skills that they will call upon throughout their lives. To do it, help them understand connections between choices they make and the outcomes. Then, help them be accountable. While they may struggle with the consequences of not studying for a test in time, teach them they have the ability to take responsibility and make different choices in the future. When they feel they have the physical and psychological resources to face challenges, they are more likely to participate, assume responsibilities and contribute rather than being avoidant. A rule of thumb is: Don't do for your kids what they can do for themselves.
5. Foster compassion and social justice.
Demonstrate to children how they can stand up for themselves as well as others, how to express empathy and understanding, how to take caring actions, and how to integrate service into their everyday lives. This is now more important than ever in a world of income inequality, increasing prejudice, and a coarsening of cultural values. As Gandhi said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." If the significant adults in children's lives follow this notion, and act with kindness, thoughtfulness, and caring, kids will be more likely to follow the example.