My nephew told me an awful story recently. He was on his way home from school and decided to take a shortcut. Suddenly, he saw another kid coming at him. He suspected nothing at first, but then the bigger kid punched my nephew in the gut!
He said he had done nothing to provoke such an attack and curled up on the ground in pain, surprised and humiliated. My nephew had his butt whipped, so he ran home crying to his mother. What she said to him next was quite a surprise.
“I am glad that happened,” his mom told him. My nephew, still reeling from the pain of getting sucker punched, was doubly shellshocked by her stoicism.
But his mother may be right.
Modern parents tend to value their children much more than their predecessors in previous times. Today’s parent-child relationships boarder on obsessive. And sometimes these obsessive relationships turn out children who can’t fend for themselves in life. Should I let my kid fight at school? The answer really depends on whether he’s the one bullying or not? Learning independent defense is good. Defense is not something that necessarily requires physical altercations. But the emphasis has to be on “learned” and not taught.
If overprotective parents do not let their child face some challenges, adversities or even failures, they deprive them one of the most prominent characteristics of human development, which is called resilience. It is the ability to face adversity and master it, to deal with stress, hurts and traumas, which might be inevitable even in childhood.
Resilience requires facing adversity or distress. Nobody is suggesting you intentionally put your child in stressful situations or adverse conditions to wake up his or her fighting spirit, but shouldn’t we avoid sheltering our kids inordinately? They need to experience the world. Children need to have the resilience to navigate the challenges of their lives.
The good news is that resilience can be learned and parents can do much to help their child master this powerful asset. The first and most important asset to learning resilience is to have a child who can fall back on a caring and loving family. However, being protective does not mean being overprotective.
The inner features of resilience
The inner features of the child are also playing a significant role in his or her resilience. Grotberg, one of the leading theorists and researchers of resilience, summarized the sources of resilience as “I am, I have, and I can.”
- “I am”
Indicates that the child is lovable, respectful, empathic, responsible and hopeful.
- “I have”
The factors represent the people around him or her, such as caring, trusting adults, role models, people who teach things, people who help in need, and people who set limits.
- “I can”
The ability to solve problems, to seek help in need, to have self-control, and to form meaningful social relationships.
Grotberg believes that resilience is a combination of these characteristics, and one of them alone is not enough to make a child resilient.
As a parent, you represent one of the most valuable asset, resource or protective factor in the life of your child, but being an all-absorbing shield will not help him or her to develop the skills needed to have a resilient personality.
Parents need to show their own resilience
Parents don’t need to neglect children to raise resilient children. But they should learn from their own hardships. Parents should be role models for their children and demonstrate resilience themselves.
There’s a mommy in my neighborhood who had it really bad in life. Her father was murdered by her mother and all those left in her family were in jail. She went from foster homes to foster homes, from foster parents to foster parents – it seemed that her life would be a real mess and lost forever. However, she learned strong protective factors because of this hard life. She is very intelligent, makes friends easily, and is a very likeable and social girl. The problems she faced will not go away, but she is now able to lead an ordinary and happy life. Her resilience is what she teaches her children, just by living her life fully each and every day.
Resilience is a multi-faceted quality
Resilience is represented by the seven Cs, including competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping, and control. Overprotective parents risk skipping the very important task of having children learn these seven Cs for themselves.
And what happened to my nephew? He thought about what his mother said, and he realized that he needed to be proactive in avoid situations like being bullied.
A couple of days after the first incident he met the bully again. He was not afraid or surprised and did not let himself humiliate again. He stood up confidently and told him to leave. This time the bully was surprised and left him alone.