Building emotional resilience in kids

In Photo: Every week, I get a chance to spend one alone time with each child. Japanese food is the usual choice. It’s when we talk about “life.” They share their highs and lows in school. I ask them about their “crushes.” They ask questions about family. I also share my past and current experiences.

OUR kids today are lucky. Most things are readily available, and technology has made many everyday tasks easy to accomplish. Choices also abound for their future.

I remember being asked if I felt this generation is luckier than ours, and my answer was and remains to be “no”—because I find my kids’ future to be far complicated. Competition is intense. The digital age almost compels each child to be the “youngest” at something. It’s not enough to be holistic. You need to excel in various crafts or disciplines.

More than that, because most things are so readily available, kids get bothered so intensely by the simplest things, like having no Internet or not having the food they like to eat.

Recently, there were news about teen suicide and depression. It has forced me to look at my kids’ emotional resilience, which is the ability to handle stressful situations or crises. We need to recognize that “stress” is relative. It’s relative to the person, relative to age and relative to a situation.

I remember attending a program about child trauma. The goal of the session was to let one’s past traumas surface so that one could deal with them. It made me aware of the many sources of childhood traumas. However, I also remember concluding that I will not spare my kids from them because these are naturally part of life.

When I was a kid, my parents often argued when we were in the room. Is this wrong? Looking back, it made me see that like any relationship, marriage will have disagreements. It does not mean a marriage is over just because the couple argues.

We were privy to many adult discussions in family and business matters.   I feel this allowed me to see the world with “bigger lenses”—that, yes, I was sad about a low grade, or an issue with a friend, but there were also other things going on around me.

Last year I came across a reading, titled How to Raise Successful Kids: Advice From a Stanford Dean, a Navy SEAL Commander, and Mark Zuckerberg’s Dad (Among Others) by Bill Murphy Jr.

The last chapter was on “How to Raise Emotionally Resilient Kids: 7 Important Things to Teach Them.” According to the book: We all want our kids to be happy and successful, so it makes sense to work backward and figure out how to make that happen.

Step 1: To be happy and successful, they need to develop great relationships.

Step 2: To develop those relationships, they need adequate emotional intelligence.

Step 3: To develop emotional intelligence, it helps if their mentors (especially their parents) model good behavior in love and partnerships.

He shares Leigh Anderson’s list on how to achieve this.

  1. Teach them to “turn toward.” This exhorts kids to “turn toward” when the people they are care about bid for their attention.
  2. Teach them to politely turn down bids for attention. In her essay, Leigh offers a simple example: turning down her child’s bid for attention simply by saying, “I can’t listen to your story right now, but I can after lunch.” So when you can’t spend the time you might like responding to a bid for attention, at least turn it down politely—never dismissively.
  3. Teach them to “be overwhelmed without freaking out.” Negative situations are often made worse by allowing your negative emotions to metastasize. So, the goal is to maintain control of your emotions even when you’re not in control of the situation. As Leigh writes: “Learning to be under stress without taking it out on your nearest and dearest is a valuable relationship skill.”
  4. Teach them to “make repairs.” I like how the author picked up a quote: “It’s okay that you’ll fall short. You will, I will, your kids will. Everybody makes mistakes—and everybody sometimes hurts the people they love. The key thing you want to model for your kids, however, is how to react when you’ve screwed up.”
  5. Teach them to appreciate others out loud. We talk a lot about learning to be thankful, but I think this is an important difference—learning to say out loud that you’re grateful, and to specific people (namely, the ones you care most about). It stresses the importance of developing a culture of appreciation in our home.
  6. Teach them that contempt is verboten. As Leigh quotes Carrie in her 
article: “Emotional abuse is contempt. If a child grows up in a home like that—[for example], if the father puts down the mother—the boys will think this is acceptable behavior. And girls will think it is acceptable to be treated like this.”
  7. Teach them not to tell mean jokes. Oh, they can—and should—tell jokes. However, mean jokes are often simply thinly veiled vessels for contempt.

I hope to practice these pointers above, to hopefully help build emotional resilience in my kids. I hope to be able to let my kids see that stress is not bad and can be positively handled. That we are not expected to be perfect, but it’s our decision to acknowledge our shortcomings and correct the situation.


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