To teach resilience, hold the automatic reassurance

If you're too quick to jump in and comfort your children when they don't do well, you may miss the chance to teach an important life lesson.

“I’m bad at soccer,” your child says after a particularly dreary game. As a parent, you’re likely tempted to reassure your child and say, “No, honey, you’re a great soccer player!” It’s important to support your child, says psychologist Madeline Levine, but parents can also consider a more thoughtful response. Listen carefully to what your child is saying before you respond. It’s also important to model that things don’t always go well — and to show your children how to resolve letdowns and failures.

Video transcript

“First of all, we have to not jump right in. ‘Oh honey, no, you’re really smart,’ you know, or ‘Yeah, maybe today was bad but you’re a great soccer player.’ Maybe they’re not a great soccer player. Maybe they’re reflecting a reality that they are struggling to come to terms with; maybe soccer isn’t their thing. Maybe the C minus in whatever math is, says, you know, math is not going to be their thing. Or it may not. Or it may be, you know, incidental. I think you always pull for what we call ‘affect’ — in psychology — you pull for the feelings. ‘How do you feel about that?’ ‘Well, I feel terrible.’ ‘Well, why do you feel so terrible about it?’ So you don’t talk at them — you talk with them. You’re trying to find out what their feeling is. And I always had this thing that a good dinner conversation was, when the parent — when I — talked about things that were tough for me. Because, remember, kids are little and you look omnipotent to them, like you can do everything right. And so I really made it a practice to talk to my kids about, ‘Oh, you know, I needed this suit.’ I mean little things, you know, ‘I needed this suit, and it wasn’t ready at the cleaner’ — how to handle it. The kinds of day-to-day frustrations and challenges that you run into is kind of like, let your kid know that this is part of life. And let them see the process by which you solve it, because that’s what they’re going to need to be able to do themselves.”

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