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Building Resilience in Children

Dr. Mark Bertin explains that ""We can not cover the road ahead for our children, but we can provide them a solid pair of hiking boots."

How can you encourage self-reliance in your child?

Children inherently want to be self-reliant – but also develop at their own pace. They want to be successful, like in getting ready for school and thrive off of success. That means in the short run, teaching them what they need to know, and then gradually easing back on those supports.

Around school, for example, show them a good study routine before they struggle, reinforce it along as needed, then let them thrive on their own when they show themselves ready. Seeing things that way, balancing firm structure with the opportunity to explore and make mistakes supports both parents and kids.

One of the most important things to realize around self-reliance is again the role of executive function, our cognitive abilities for managing and coordinating everything. They start developing in early childhood and do not fully mature until our mid-20s. Kids are kids for a reason.

If you want to understand what makes sense around daily routines like sleep and homework, discipline, and just how much independence and judgment a child is capable of, it often comes down to getting a better sense of how executive function develops in childhood. Even most teens cannot handle their life like an adult, right up until their Executive Function has matured.

Kids are asked to specialize and pick single activities and interests far too early nowadays. Their strengths will become apparent over time, as will their interests, if we give them space to explore.

One of the challenges of being a parent is the unending uncertainty around raising kids. We can’t predict their challenges, but we can aim them towards resilience.

What foundations does your child need so that the parent can step aside?

There’s a saying, we can not cover the road ahead for our children, but we can provide them a solid pair of hiking boots. We can teach them to be resilient and independent when adversity arises. Emphasize building resilience, and then balance opportunities for them to explore and learn from mistakes with strong parental guidance and compassionate support when their struggles persist.

Everyone is doing their best as a parent, and everyone also has more to learn. Trust that the old-school, common sense basics are often best, and do your best to let go of all the extras that cause you unnecessary stress and concern.

Mark Bertin, MD, is a developmental pediatrician and author of How Children Thrive: The Practical Science of Raising Independent, Resilient, and Happy Kids.


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