What You Need to Know to Raise Resilient Kids

They say the millennial generation is lazy. Entitled. Fragile. They say we can’t handle stress. They say our “helicopter parents” hovered around us solving our problems and telling us we were God’s gift to the world – the most perfect little specimens. All of us.

I also say, that if parenting is a test, mom and dad (hi!)– you aced it. A+. I turned out great! Thanks 🙂

Except, I AM in fact, a lazy thinker. Losing an eraser does stress me out sometimes and now that I’m done my PhD, I do feel that I should be handed a tenure track position (jokes). Let’s talk about how to raise kids who might handle these situations a little differently – kids who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and get to work. Kids who like a challenge and will be more willing to confront some of today’s problems.

First, two words about brain development in children:

  • The brain is far more plastic (read: impressionable, moldable) in childhood, adolescence and early adulthood than it is later in life.
  • Every experience a child has shapes the way his/her brain wires itself. Brain development is activity-dependent, meaning that those circuits that are turned on consistently will grow stronger, while those that see little activity may be “pruned” away and disappear altogether. This makes a busy little person’s brain much more efficient at processing their world and rising to meet its particular challenges

Despite their best efforts, scientists have yet to discover any kind of tricks or particular actions that expedite the wiring process in children’s brain development. Loving care and exposure to language (verbal interaction) are the only ways we know of to safeguard and encourage cognitive development in little ones.

There is, however, one simple, proven way to develop kids who are not averse to hard work, and consequently are more likely to have brains that are wired for eventual success. It involves developing what Scientific American calls in this article a “growth (or mastery-oriented) mindset”. This stands in stark contrast to what has been termed a “fixed (or helpless) mindset”.

What you need to know to raise resilient kids

Kids with a fixed (helpless) mindset believe that intelligence is doled out in fixed amounts, and whatever they have is all they are entitled to. These can be children who have sailed effortlessly through school as well because, as everyone told them, they were “smart”. This mindset becomes obvious in the face of mistakes which break their confidence and threaten their egos. They often shy away from challenges for fear of looking “dumb”.

By contrast, mastery-oriented children understand that intelligence is flexible and can grow through hard work and study. Their objective is primarily to learn. They are motivated by challenges, seeing them as opportunities.

What you need to know to raise resilient kids

So what are some strategies we can begin implementing how to develop resilience and a growth-mindset in our baby Einsteins?

  1. Tell stories about family members, colleagues, and heroes who saw success as a result of hard work and perseverance, stories about underdogs who didn’t give up. We are the stories we tell.
  2. Teach them that their brain is a muscle like any other and grows stronger with more concerted use and effort
  3. Rather than reinforcing that they are brilliant and talented, let’s start praising the effort they put into a project, how hard they worked, what a great challenge opportunities are….etc. Some examples of this could include:
    1. You are getting really good at studying! I saw you reading over your history book so many times, making great notes and asking others to test you. All that work really paid off!
    2. I like the way you kept trying variations on that pasta recipe until you created one that tasted this good!
    3. That really looked like a tough math problem, but you kept at it until you figured it out. You didn’t get distracted, and you worked really hard, way to go!
    4. Wow, that’s a tough problem – what a fun challenge!
    5. That question was too easy – let’s see if we can find something harder that we can learn something from.
    6. Mistakes are interesting – let’s see what we can learn from this one.

2 thoughts on “What You Need to Know to Raise Resilient Kids”

  1. I love the concept of developing resilience and a growth-mindset in kids. We really do need to take the time to encourage them when they show hard work and determination rather than just telling them “good job”. It lets them know that we see their efforts and we care about what they’re doing, which motivates them to keep trying new and challenging things.

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