Pediatric Associates of the NW Blogs

Ask the Experts: Raising resilient kids

Natalie Lieblick, Patient Partner
March 28, 2018 08:30AM

Resiliency. It’s everywhere. Special speaker at my daughter’s school. Training at work. Everyone is talking about how to have a ‘growth mindset’ and raise kids who are okay failing.

But what is resiliency? How do I do it? What does it look like?

You can find hundreds of blogs on the topic, but who has the time to read them all and how do I know if I can trust them? I decided to ask some experts who I do trust.

To get an expert point of view, I talked with Dr. Pilar Buerk, registered dietitian Connie Evers, and Dr. Jay Rosenbloom at Pediatric Associates of the Northwest. These three have over 75 years of combined experience.

What is Resiliency

In talking with the providers, basically resiliency is being able to adapt to adverse situations. As Dr. Rosenbloom said, “Everyone has bad things happen in life. No matter how privileged you are. And resiliency is how well people bounce back.”

Apparently, the concept is not a new one. Researchers have known for a long time that when people go through a traumatic experience, some come out highly successful and others fall apart. It’s not new. As Dr. Buerk said, “We now have a name for something we’ve always talked with parents about.”

What is new is we didn’t realize resiliency is something we can teach. We know kids are born with it and we are a resilient species, but it’s also something we can learn. So, how do I teach it to my kids? How can I help my kids be the best version of themselves?

To answer this question, I went to these providers to find the magic bullet. The one thing I need to do as a parent to raise a resilient kid. 

Unfortunately, that didn’t work. As the providers all pointed out, every situation is different and there is no one right answer.

Bummer!

That said, I learned it’s never too late to start, and there were three guiding principles for raising resilient kids they all agreed on. Basically, it all comes down to trust. Trusting your kids helps build their confidence, their self-worth, and their ability to bounce-back when things don’t go right.

Three guiding principles

  1. Provide opportunities to contribute. Kids need to know they are contributors to the family and be given the opportunity to grow their skills as they mature. Starting as young as two, kids need to participate in keeping the house running. When they have jobs, and complete them, they feel good about themselves. Same goes for nutrition. Kids need to be involved in what they eat. As Evers pointed out, “how you feed your kid says a lot about how you parent in general.” She recommends letting your kids have an active role in eating. Let them help cook. Shop together for something new. Let them grow some food in the garden.
  2. Let your kids fail in safe ways. Letting our kids fail is hard. We don’t want to see them struggle. Regardless, they need to struggle, fail, and try again. If I let my 3-year-old clear the table, he might fail and I’ll end up with a mess on the floor. However, as Dr. Buerk pointed out, “When he spills and then cleans up his mess, he’s learned it’s okay to fail and he can solve the problem.”
  3. Don’t micromanage. Once we’ve given our kids the opportunities to contribute and accepted it’s okay for them to fail, the next important element is for us as parents to not micromanage. Dr. Buerk said, “The less you manage them when they are young, the less you need to manage them when they are older.” Give them healthy food, but let them choose how much to eat. Evers pointed out, “kids have a vested interest in their survival.” If they are hungry, they will eat. This does not however mean you are not involved. You don’t let them eat whatever they want, whenever they want to. Likewise, you don’t need to look over your teen’s shoulder every time they are on Instagram, but you should talk with them about what they see and how they feel about it.

Resiliency. Does it work?

Well, Elon Musk, arguably one of the top inventors of our time, was raised by a single mom who didn’t have the time to micro-manage and made her kids step up. A recent Economist article points out her approach to parenting was:

“…very different to the modern norm. By today’s standards, she gave her children an outlandish degree of freedom to take risks, extraordinarily little supervision and made no attempt to shape their interests or to determine their futures.”

Sounds like some hard-core resilience-based parenting.

If you are interested in more information, PANW has some great resources online and you can check out “The Seven C’s: Building Block of Resiliency.” According to Dr. Rosenbloom, “If we keep going back to those 7 C’s at every stage of our child’s development, it reminds us where to focus. Each stage requires a change in approach, but the guiding principles don't change.” Also, bring this up at your next appointment. Turns out these folks have a lot to say on this topic.

-- Natalie Lieblick, PANW Patient Partner