I’ve noticed a pattern as I talk to adults who interact with teenagers and young adults in the current generation. I hear over and over again that kids are more fragile. They lack resilience and the coping skills that are so necessary for handling the vicissitudes of life.
So, these are things we hope to foster in our home. Here are some ways we do it, many gleaned from observing other parents I admire. I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments, especially since our oldest is 10 and we can’t see around the corner to how things will play out as our kids hit their teenage years and beyond.
1. Life is not always fair at our house. Or equal.
If there’s one cookie left, I don’t split it in 4 equal pieces for each of my kids. I just hand it to a random child. A similar scenario presents itself in a hundred different ways. I typically don’t make an effort to equalize things or soften the rough stuff that comes my kids’ way. When a child whines about things not being the fair, or it being their turn, or whatever, I just matter-of-factly remind them life isn’t equal for everyone (and I have them run a lap). Good things come to all of us in different ways and at different times, and we can be happy for other people and see the good in our own situation.
2. We have a resiliency playlist, of sorts
We all love The Piano Guys, and the song “It’s Gonna Be Okay” is one of our favorites. But it wasn’t until I was having a hard day a few months ago and my oldest queued up that song for me and it brought a smile to my face that I realized it has definitely become part of our family culture. We just dig it and the message is awesome. I notice sometimes a sibling will just hum it to remind their brother or sister that things will work out.
Another one we like is Alex Boye’s Lemonade. This one isn’t so much for when someone is already having a rough time, it’s just a good mindset song to throw in our regular listening.
We have one child in particular who tends to get really down when she’s down. She can just absolutely crash and burn after a pretty spectacular display of anguish and/or rage, which is hard to recover from, especially in a social situation. Well, we’ve got a song for that. When I can tell she’s had her cry and is ready to get back on the horse with a little encouragement, I’ll sometimes throw on this song to nudge her in the right direction and make her smile: Danny Gokey’s The Comeback . It shifts the focus to the triumph of a comeback rather than the embarrassment of the initial failure. The chorus is so catchy, it just takes me saying “oh oh woah oh” and she knows just what I think she’s capable of.
3. Ditto for movies.
So far, the only one that comes to mind is, “Why do we fall, Bruce?” from Batman. Watching that clip on YouTube burned something into my kids’ brains and they love quoting back the butler’s response to Bruce’s question: “You still haven’t given up on me?”
I’m sure other movies will be added as we go. 🙂
One of my favorite we’ve memorized as a family is Equipment by Edgar A. Guest. Everyone knows what “get hold of yourself” means around here and sometimes it’s just the encouragement we need to start moving in the right direction. When we learned it, we thumped a fist over our hearts for “courage must come from the soul within” and a raised fist means “the man must furnish the will to win” and those are winners as well that come to mind when someone feels like giving up.
Figure it out for yourself, my lad,
You’ve all that the greatest of men have had,
Two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes,
And a brain to use if you would be wise.
With this equipment they all began,
So start for the top and say “I can.”
Look them over, the wise and great,
They take their food from a common plate
And similar knives and forks they use,
With similar laces they tie their shoes,
The world considers them brave and smart.
But you’ve all they had when they made their start.
You can triumph and come to skill,
You can be great if only you will,
You’re well equipped for what fight you choose,
You have legs and arms and a brain to use,
And the man who has risen, great deeds to do
Began his life with no more than you.
You are the handicap you must face,
You are the one who must choose your place,
You must say where you want to go.
How much you will study the truth to know,
God has equipped you for life, But He
Lets you decide what you want to be.
Courage must come from the soul within,
The man must furnish the will to win,
So figure it out for yourself, my lad,
You were born with all that the great have had,
With your equipment they all began.
Get hold of yourself, and say: “I can.”
Thomas Edison is a gold mine. Here’s one we’ve learned:
“I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
but there are a dozen more here that are salient and might grab you.
Teddy Roosevelt took the cake with this one:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. “
I reminded my 7 year old (and myself) of that gem on Thanksgiving this year when she came out to run a mile with my older daughter and I and she really struggled. She hadn’t run that far in a while and was discouraged and pretty whiney about it. She dragged and walked and complained. When we got back to the house, after taking a deep breath and letting my frustration go, I looked her at the eye and asked how many of the dozens of aunts, uncles and cousins in the house had gone out to do something hard on that cold morning. “You were actually in the arena, Babe. You can be proud of that.” And she was.
Henry Ford? “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
And this one from the Old Testament in the Bible has had a profound effect on me and my own ability to keep my chin up when things are rough:
Psalm 118:24 “This is the day which the Lord hath made. [I] will rejoice and be glad in it.”
6. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
I have a kiddo who struggles (struggled?) with anxiety and we’ve made huge progress with her through reading David Burns’ books on depression and anxiety because he talks about cognitive distortion, what he refers to as Stinkin’ Thinkin’. Since we’ve learned to recognize those distortions and challenge them, we’ve been able to educate our daughter on the same tools and it’s helped all of us to get unstuck when we experience a downward spiral of negative thoughts.
There’s a good summary of these here, but here’s one example:
I listen for words like “always,” “never,” and “should” and try to rephrase.
“I always forget to do my job after lunch. I never get to go outside and play” is more accurately and helpfully stated as, “Today I forgot to do my job after lunch, but every day is a new chance.”
“I should be able to get out the door on time by now. I’m an adult, for crying out loud.” That’s discouraging, and who says that’s true? “I would like to improve at getting out the door. It’s obviously not a strength yet.”
Simple changes in thinking lead to a dramatic change in attitude and emotion.
7. Value guts over perfection.
“Beans do hard things” is something you’ll hear at our house often, most often out of the mouths of our kids.
Sometimes it’s said with a rueful smile as we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off after trying something outside of our current abilities.
It brings to mind this excerpt from President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech about going to the moon: “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills…”
If failure in our house is met with a hand up and a clap on the back because we truly believe in daring greatly, then we won’t choose the easy thing. We’ll get in the arena and stay there even when the going gets tough.
I want our home to be a safe place to land and I try to give myself that same gift. I try not to expect perfection from myself or from my kids*. I fail at something or other every single day and I don’t try to hide that from my kids, instead I try to model failing with grace.
Sprinkle ’em in.
That all reads as a bit heavy-handed, but they’re just woven into other things we learn and do together. I honestly only recognized they all pointed towards greater resiliency when I was having a really rough time recently dealing with sickness and discouragement and over the course of the tough month all three of my oldest kids encouraged me with the things listed above (and more!) and I realized that they had been accumulating tools to deal with challenges. They knew how to dig deep, how to get in a better frame of mind, and how to encourage somehow else who was struggling. It was humbling but pretty awesome to see.
*Keeping it real: This is actually one of the biggest challenges of my life. In my heart I don’t expect perfection because that would be silly, but my words and tone sometimes disagree and it’s difficult to make sure I’m showing my heart to my kids. My goal is to have high expectations but to love and encourage no matter what. I play this song for my kids and twirl them around the room sometimes just to remind us all how I feel about them and how they can feel about themselves: