When it comes to predicting our kids’ lives, we don’t really know that much. But one thing we DO know for sure is that sometime, some way, some how, difficulties will cross their paths. It could be as small as not being included in a group of friends gathering or as big as not getting into their pick college. Life DOES deal some junk…even to our precious kids! So how can we help them get ready?
In her book, Raising an Adult, Julie Lythcott-Haims has created what she calls a list of mistakes and curveballs which you must let your kid experience; they include
- Losing a friend (or getting dumped by a boyfriend or girlfriend)
- Not getting a high enough score, fast enough time…to make the cut
- Being wrongly blamed by an adult
- Breaking something which is valuable to someone else
- Getting a detention
- Deeply regretting saying something and NOT being able to take it back
- and the list goes on and on and on…..
Most of us parents are accustomed to helping our young kids to “right” themselves when they face a disappointment. We give advice; we distract; we buy them something; we may even call other adults trying to get our kid out of their misery. BUT, as teen years roll around, we need to alter our perspective.
Keep in mind that by the end of teen years, young adults are mostly able to “right” their own lives. When our kid faces setbacks, disappointments, failures, rejections, he or she will be able to pick themselves up and move ahead. How do they get there? PRACTICE.
And, how do they get practice? We back away when little-bad-things happen and simply encourage them to manage the situation. As they grow up, the little-bad-things get bigger too; but so do their problem-solving skills. Not getting invited to the 3 year old birthday party becomes not getting included at the lunch table which becomes not being picked by the sorority of your choice. Resiliency doesn’t arrive one morning; it is a trait which grows with time and…alas, some setbacks.
It helps to think of these skills as a Tool Kit for Life. How would you reply if you were asked, when things go off-track for you, what do you do for yourself? Most adults have quite a few self-help actions in their Tool Kits: taking a nap; talking to a trusted friend; crying; praying; running five miles; watching a sappy movie; having a glass of wine; baking cookies; going outdoors; playing with the dog; go shopping, etc. It’s a great question to toss around your dinner table.
But often it becomes clear that a. our young teens don’t have that many tools-of-self-recovery and b. they don’t really want to take our suggestions/tips! To tell the truth, our patience with their “wallowing” sometimes is also pretty limited! Here are 3 possible tips to promote their growth in building a Tool Kit for Overcoming:
1. Initiate a discussion of the Tool Kit on an occasion when no one is distressed…like just a regular dinner conversation. Normalize experiencing a “bump in the road” or a setback by having Mom and Dad talk about setbacks they’ve faced, are facing, and what tools they use to help themselves get going again. Once I asked a group about advice their parents had given them for self-help. One woman said her mom had recommended that when she was down to put on her best nightie and her best pearls, get in bed early, and read a good book! Some kids get the impression that if they do Life “right”, there’ll be no bad times. It helps to normalize having rough patches.
2. When your kid is in the middle of a rough patch, be careful NOT to take over. Allow him or her to “own” their bad time; you may even want to back away a bit, letting her know you see she’s having a hard time and offering support with a favorite snack or giving her a ride or rubbing her back. Avoid dispensing advice; offer a listening ear. Like you, sometimes she has a bad day or a difficult situation she has to figure out how to handle. ACT as if you have confidence that she’ll figure it out.
3. You might get a chance to remind her that she has solved tough things before. You might say something like, “I remember when you had a blow up with Susan before one time. I wonder if there’s anything you did then which might be useful now.” No suggesting, no advising. Perhaps you’ll get a chance to say something like, “You’re a kind, caring person. Knowing you, I’ll bet you’ll figure it out.”
In the quiet of your parent’s heart, remind yourself that your kids will learn what tools work well for them. Likewise, they’ll become more adept at recovering as they practice using their own Tool Kits for Life!