This post is part of an ongoing series on books that have greatly influenced my life.
I would say that it is no exaggeration that my children are the single most important thing in my life. Becoming a parent has profoundly changed my outlook on life in more ways than I can count. There is no more important job than raising my children to be successful, kind, compassionate members of society, and it is one both my wife and I take very seriously.
With that in mind, I make it a point to read books on various subjects around the general theme of parenting and healthy childhood development. And while my background in psychology means I could certainly understand the more theoretical and academic works, in my world of limited time I tend to heavily favor those with a decided practical slant. And I must say, that is one area where this post’s book shines.
Raising Resilient Children is a beautifully (yet concisely) worded series of chapters on how to impart your children with, well, resiliency. How does one define this? While the authors describe several areas, I’d like to focus mainly on one.
Resilient children are able to overcome problems and obstacles they face. As a parent it is natural to want to see your child sail through life with nary a bump, but the reality is that this is neither practical nor desirable. Even if through some extremely overzealous form of “helicopter parenting” one was able to see their child avoid any hint of difficulty, the result would be a person incapable of living in the real world. What we instead want is to give our children the tools with which they can navigate the inevitable bruises of life using problem solving and a healthy dose of hard work.
The authors describe a series of principles which will help teach children how best to weather the challenges of life. Each chapter first lays out challenges we face as a parent in adopting these practices, then offers specific guidelines on how to overcome them. For example, let’s look at one obstacle mentioned in the section on teaching our children to be empathic.
The authors note that many parents believe that showing empathy equates to showing weakness. That is, by listening to and validating the feelings of our children, we are somehow allowing them to get the better of us. They give several examples from their own experience, which is helpful in that it can help us identify with parents dealing with similar struggles. The authors go on to give helpful advice on how one can express empathy but still set firm limits with children.
The book also encourages a lot of self-reflection, that is that parents can and should routinely look at how they are behaving and what effect it has on their children. The authors often will ask some simple, yet profoundly perspective shifting questions. For example, in the same section discussed briefly above, they ask:
Am I saying or doing things in a way that would make my children the most receptive to listening to what I have to say and learning from me?
Would I want anyone to speak with me in the way I am speaking with my children?
What do my children think about the choices I make for them?
As parents we are human and subject to the same biases, mistakes, and occasional blow-ups as everyone else. We often feel pressure to show strength and authority, but neglect to see things from the perspective of the very people we are working so hard for: our children. This book helped me to recognize that being strong does not mean being a disciplinarian; rather, it means accepting our children for who they are, showing them our love through understanding and gentle guidance, and teaching them the means to be successful in whatever pursuits they desire.