Three steps to nurturing mentally stronger kids

Dr. Delaney Ruston – Life, both online and off, is full of setbacks. It just is.

Resiliency is the ability to recover after a setback. For example, you’re a teen and nervously post a video of something you did over Thanksgiving break. You’re nervous because unlike posting a photo where you can put your settings such that people won’t be able to put likes, you can’t do that for videos. Now you feel vulnerable — what if people don’t respond to your video? In fact, let’s say that over the next 48 hours, only a few people like it. You feel crappy.

The teen’s brain will need to dig into their resiliency tool belt. They might grab the “strategic self-talk” apparatus and say something like, “Good for me for keeping this video up rather than taking it down because I like it. I am posting with integrity, and that is what counts, not the number of likes”.

Setbacks, of course, can be much more intense. Perhaps a teen’s girlfriend broke up with them over Thanksgiving break — that sucks. The list goes on.

As parents, we have trillions of atoms in our bodies that want to relieve our kids’ suffering. Sometimes they allow us to help, and other times they want nothing to do with our help. 

What I offer today is an action we can do to build their resiliency. It is all about casually mentioning a time when they have overcome adversity. The key is that this is not done in response to a current challenge but to say something out of the blue.

One of the most important resiliency tools we all carry in our tool belts is the act of remembering past times we got through challenges. The problem is doing it during setbacks, and those times don’t readily come to mind. 

When as adults, we take a few minutes to mention times that we saw our kids rebound, we are deepening their ability to recall such times when it is really needed. 

And what is great about this move is that when they are not in the midst of a dilemma, they may be more receptive to hearing our observations.

Three steps for action:

  1. Right now, think of a time your child (or student, or team player if you are a coach, etc.) faced a setback and something you noted about how they moved through it and got to the other side.
  2. Make a self-commitment to find a time to bring it up in the next few days. Consider saying something while chopping vegetables together, on the couch together, on the field, etc.
  3. Read these examples below to help you think of one of your own

Examples of the types of things to say to kids:

  • I was just reflecting on the time when you didn’t make varsity and how bummed you were. And then how eventually you set up all these ways to practice harder at the things you weren’t so good at. It was inspiring to watch you recover from that setback.
  • Not sure why I thought of this, but I was thinking back on how hard things were for you with certain friends in 6th grade and how I watched you not only get your friends to have more honest conversations but also saw you put yourself on the line to make new friends. It was really impressive.

Remember when we were all arguing so much about video gaming? How angry and upset were you that we wanted you to have a more varied life? Well, I just remembered what a hard time that was and how you decided to try the school newspaper on your own accord. You could have just stayed upset, and yet you pivoted and looked for solutions, and it has been really cool to see you continue to give this new gig with the paper a try. Your willingness to try new things is a great strength that will serve you well when life serves you with curve balls. I just wanted to say that.

Aside from this resiliency inoculation exercise I just mentioned, there will be times when our kids will indeed appreciate our being cheerleaders for them in real-time. In fact, as I was writing this today, one such moment happened.

This morning my daughter, husband, and I got to the San Francisco airport at 4:30 am. Peter and I were headed back to Seattle, and our daughter was on a different flight headed back to college. As I sat on the plane about to depart, I got a call from Tessa.  She had not realized she had been waiting at the wrong gate and she missed her flight. We spoke briefly on the phone and then exchanged these texts. (My texts are in blue)

Text exchangc with mom and daughter

Questions to get the conversation started:

1. What does the word resiliency mean to you?

2. When was the last time you got through a challenge? (Have the whole family give an example)

3. What things did you do to help get through it?