Once upon a time, before I was a mother and was a teacher to many, many children not my own, I thought, "When I have children, I will not coddle them and they'll be able to function on their own."
Oh, the things we say before children. Now, don't get me wrong--I was a very nurturing and mothering kind of teacher, and often, many might say I 'enabled' children more than was good for them myself. But, as a mother, I now know that parents who are often accused of 'coddling' their children really are just trying to be everything their children need them to be--and giving them that security is never a bad thing.
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But, in the day and age of a tough world, we also want to make sure our kids are resilient children and able to take what comes at them--with strength, confidence, ability and most of all--kindness and compassion. We want our children to be able to stand up for themselves and 'deal' with life, but in a way that doesn't throw sympathy and care for our fellow humans out the window. It often seems like society gives us two options: we either raise them to be tough and 'take no prisoners' or to constantly 'turn the other cheek' and let them become the bullied of every situation.
One of the best things about attachment parenting says that neither has to be true, though, and that it IS possible to gently raise resilient children without constantly throwing 'tough love' around like it's candy. Why does love need to be 'tough'? Why can't it be decisive and firm, but with gentle intent and best interest behind it? Attachment parents argue it can, and here's how.
Anthony Semann is an early childhood educator who says that we really can't teach resilience in children unless we have and show empathy. If we are to teach our children how to 'bounce back' when life gives us lemons, we have to stand by our children in situations and show them what that looks like. We listen to their issues, give credibility to their feelings, and let them know that we stand with them in whatever they're going through. We don't have to helicopter parent and do it for them, but abandoning them with the theory that 'they'll learn' through 'tough love' only shows them that they're on their own. Will they in fact, one day, be 'on their own'?
Sure they will. But they're not now. That's why you're there--sort of like a shadow as they spread their wings and learn how to handle life's trials with you and beside you. Seamann says that when you love your child through trials and your child has secure attachments, they'll feel more confident in standing on their own two feet in things because they know their footing is rooted in your solid support.
Tough Love's Got Nothing To Do With Resilient Children
Attachment parenting also grows resilient children because it focuses on giving our children voice and language to accompany their feelings and processes. When we're honest with our children about feelings ("Mama gets angry/sad/frustrated too. Here's what I do about it," or "I know you're very worried about how sick our dog is, I am too, but we'll be together no matter what happens,") we show our children that it is okay to feel sad/angry/afraid. The key to teaching them resilience is to accept the feelings, validate the feelings and most importantly, show them how to do that themselves. Then, as you work together through the issues, they recognize an important fact of life: it's not what happens to us that matters as much as how we handle what happens to us.
When we steal the opportunity for our children to feel what they feel in the name of having them 'suck it up' for resilience, we are acting counter-intuitively because when they do feel those emotions, they'll feel they are wrong and not as strong or confident as those around them.
Attachment parenting also means that we're not afraid to let our children fail because we know we'll be by to help as they need. The reality is that children will never learn to deal with failure if they're not allowed to fail, but that doesn't mean we just throw the baby in the river and hope it learns to swim.
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Gently encouraging our children to problem solve and try different methods when they face failure shows them that it's worth the effort to try our hardest in all we do, but more, it gives the opportunity for them to find in us a safe place when they do fail. (Because it's a fact of life; they'll fail at something, most likely many times. We all do.) Instead of telling your child, "That's life," (though it is), be sure to add the VERY important, "And life is painful sometimes, isn't it? What can we do so that sort of thing doesn't happen again?"
Resilient Children Know How To Fail And Bounce Back
No parent wants to let their child fail, but when we do, how we show them what after-failure looks like shapes their confidence in approaching other mountains they may climb (or fail to climb). Use failures as growth opportunities, and your child will grow to do so too.
Remember: love your children. Be there for your children. Make sure they feel accepted and validated in their thoughts and feelings (no matter how ridiculous or irrational you think they are) and praise them for process, not perfection. In doing so, we'll be raising a generation of children who won't fear failure, but look at it as part of life's processes. But they'll look at it that way with a spirit of can-do and resiliency, and that is what will make all the difference in their attitude toward it.