Monday, March 24, 2014

Teaching Courage and Resilience as a Skill, Not Just a Lesson

I have two daughters.  They are amazing and smart and funny.  They are also quiet and humble and, at times, ‘shy’.  Neither of them ‘likes’ competition.  My oldest daughter is an introvert.  She is exhausted by people.  As a baby, she would instantly fall asleep in a crowd.  She never smiled at strangers.  She is reserved and was born with a certain amount of anxiety.  This was a huge part of our lives early on. 

More than once, I have practically pushed her into new experiences.  Art classes, gymnastics, birthday parties - all of which she has loved in the end.  She usually doesn’t choose new experiences but she is starting to open up to them.  We are both glad that I given her little a push along the way.

My youngest spent many days of her pre-school experience under a table.  She was scared, timid and unsure, but we took her back each day.  The loving teachers made us feel it was the right thing.  We don’t quit something we’ve started, even if you really want to.  We see our commitments through, which they both have grown to appreciate. 

Don’t misunderstand; things have gone wrong for both of our daughters.  There have been tears and disappointment.  It happens just as it does for any elementary-aged child.  Sometimes there is a need for a pep talk or hug or gentle (and at times more firm) encouragement and they are okay. 

Fear and hesitation is natural, right?  It is part of what keeps us safe and even alive.  However, fear is also what holds us back.  It can be a result of disappointments and failures or it can just be fear of the unknown. 

One of the many adages in our house is, "It's okay to be afraid. Do it anyway."

When that same oldest daughter was about a year old, she was reluctant to walk.  We weren’t sure why but then realized her overwhelming caution in everything she did may have had an impact on her hesitation.  We encouraged her, made it something fun and were patient with her.  By 14 months she was walking with a careful confidence.  My same cautious child didn’t ride a bike without training wheels until she turned nine.  One of the benefits of waiting and not pushing her is that she remembers being afraid and doing it anyway and succeeding!

But I fear that they are fragile.  That they will break easily should something go really wrong.  My children are still learning to trust the world…and also, to not always trust it.  Courage and persistence are crucial to their ability to be resilient but I don’t just hope that they have it.  It is one of the toughest jobs so far but it is my job to teach them the skills of resilience.  To teach them tools to help them get up after falling down, to try and fail, and then try again.  It is my job to teach them, each in their own way, to motivate themselves to not give up and that it is worth it to try in the first place.  To teach them that it’s okay to be afraid but do it anyway.

In our house, failure is simply a chance to try again.  A chance to do something differently or look at something in another way.  We focus on tools and skills and not just conceptual lessons.

As I research happiness, resilience and vulnerability, I see the power in our words. 
I see the power in our experiences.  I see the power in our thinking.

Based on this, we teach five principles consistently in the face of doubt or disappointment. The goal is to create coping skills for our daughters to be resilient throughout their lives.

1.   You are strong.  You are!  You are persistent and logical and strong.  Even as a young child, you didn’t take ‘no’ as an answer very often.  You bounced back after that fall (or six) on the playground.  Your skinned knees, broken arm, and hurt feelings or pride are all healed.  You are strong.  You can handle it and when you feel like you can’t, I’m here to give you a hug to remind you how strong you are and then nudge you back out there.

2.   You can figure it out.  You can!  You are capable and smart and you can find a way to work out this problem.  You will ultimately work it out.  Use the skills that you learned, based on your past experiences.  Use your knowledge of yourself and how you learn best to work through the problem.  Do you have to keep practicing until you get it (my youngest daughter) or do you have to process and think about it differently before trying again (my oldest daughter)?  Sometimes just walking outside or taking a bath can help it click.  Sometimes you just have to stick with it until your muscle memory or brain take over and you have it. 

3.   It is okay to ask for help. It is!  If you have tried, tried, and tried again but are not seeing the solution, ask for someone else’s point of view.  Ask how they see it and ask how they would solve it.  You are not alone in this world and you are surrounded by people that love you and want you to succeed. 

4.   Three-to-one rule. For every negative thing you say about yourself, we need three positive ones.  This goes mainly for times when you have tried something but it didn’t work for you. 

For every major disappointment or failure, we recall or discuss three positive ones.

5.   Reactions are for the moment.  What we learn is for a lifetime.  In each situation you deal with, you have an opportunity to learn.  Your reactions and emotions will fade and change as time goes on.  Look for the lesson in each challenge and each situation with an undesired outcome. Hold on to that lesson.  Let it help your future reactions.  Let it comfort you and strengthen you.

I ask, “What did we learn from this?”

Admittedly, this is very much a ‘mom question,’ but it is an important one.  It helps me hear that my children have seen the important aspect of any positive and negative situation, even if they don’t see it right away. 

This is our work-in-progress but just like with The Gratitude Project and some of our waypoints in The New Habits Project, the goal is that these principles will create a pattern of thinking.  A habit that will become a skill.  A way to cope with undesired outcomes and start to see the possibilities that may come with these moments. 

These principles will create a positive healthy pathway to ‘get back on the bike’ and try again.  Figure it out.  Truly believe that they are strong (because they are) and that they will ultimately succeed.  They will learn from their experiences, they will help themselves, and they will have the skills of resilience to do great things. 

With Much Love,

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