No kid should have to go through what Sandberg's two school-aged kids faced when their father died suddenly of a cardiac arrhythmia. But at least a few good things came out of the horrifying loss experienced by the Sandberg family.
First, Sandberg teamed up with Wharton psychologist Adam Grant to write Option B, which combines Sandberg's personal story with research-backed insights on how to bounce back from adversity. Second, Sandberg began a personal quest to learn whatever science could teach her about how to help her kids thrive after such a traumatic experience. She related what she found in a New York Times op-ed recently.
While, thankfully, few kids will face a loss on the magnitude of Sandberg's children, every young person will encounter setbacks, failures, disappointment, and hurt. Helping them learn to cope and come back stronger is a parent's job, and Sandberg discovered several useful tips to help parents in more everyday situations build their kids' resilience. Here are a few of her science-backed tips to get you started.
1. Give your kids your undivided attention.
In a world of endlessly pinging smartphones it's sometimes all too easy to forget to carve out specific times when you give your kids your full and undivided attention, but doing so is essential if you want them to develop real resilience, Sandberg discovered.
"Dave and I had a tradition at the dinner table with our kids in which each of us would share the best and worst moments of our day. Giving children undivided attention -- something we all know is important but often fail to do -- is another of the key steps toward building their resilience. My children and I have continued this tradition, and now we also share something that makes us feel grateful to remind ourselves that even after loss, there is still so much to appreciate in life," she writes.
2. Talk about the past (even if it's painful).
This is particularly important to Sandberg as she's determined to ensure her young children retain memories of their father, but exploring what happened in the past is important for building resilience in all kids.
"When children grow up with a strong understanding of their family's history -- where their grandparents grew up, what their parents' childhoods were like -- they have better coping skills and a stronger sense of mattering and belonging. Jamie Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas, has found that expressing painful memories can be uncomfortable in the moment, but improves mental and even physical health over time," Sandberg explains.
3. Walk beside your kids.
As a parent, your natural inclination is to rush ahead of your kids clearing their path of obstacles and dangers, but following this impulse produces several problems. First, while this is a viable strategy for toddlers, it's pretty much impossible as your children grow older. And even if you could manage it, your kids won't learn the vital skills needed to navigate their own way through life if you're constantly fixing things for them.
So what do you do instead of solving your kids' problems? You walk beside them while they navigate life's challenges on their own. "We can still provide support by 'companioning' -- walking alongside them and listening," Sandberg claims, citing research that tested a program to help families cope with serious loss by teaching parents to maintain open communication and help their kids develop coping skills.
"When families participate in these programs for 10 to 12 sessions, over the next six years children have fewer mental-health and substance-abuse problems, higher grades and better biological stress responses," she reports.
Looking for more science-based insights on how to help your kids better endure the inevitable slings and arrows of life? Sandberg's full article is a great place to start, but other experts offer plenty of guidance as well.