Setbacks. We’ve all experienced these at some point in our lives. They are part of the human condition and can sometimes lead to frustration, risk aversion or a “why bother” attitude. They can happen in the stock market, during a kitchen renovation, in math class or on the playground. Most adults have learned to manage such challenges by developing patience, courage, and mental toughness (i.e., resilience). However, it takes children longer to learn these skills and they need regular practice. In our schools and homes, the example we provide and the messages we deliver are important “teachers” that will help determine how well they will acquire them.
An important part of resilience is undoubtedly related to emotional strength. Fostering emotional strength in children does not mean children are not free to cry or feel sad or fail. Such strength is not about being immune to hardship or suppressing one’s emotions. In fact, it’s about the opposite. It’s about being able to bounce back and keep going in the face of setbacks and adversity.
What are some factors related to academic, social and emotional success in childhood and adolescence that help develop resilience? Not surprisingly, we as parents and teachers play an important role. When children experience self-doubt, setbacks or unpleasant consequences, we need to work together to ensure the following messages are communicated effectively and clearly.
First, rejection, failure and unfairness are part of life, so we need to refuse invitations to our children’s pity parties. They need to know that we are confident in their ability to take positive action and we need to support them in appropriate ways.
What about when they err or have a lapse in judgement? We must help them accept the consequences with character and humility. We must also help them understand that “when they choose the behaviour, they choose the consequences”.
Natural or logical consequences are some of life’s greatest teachers. By allowing our children to “mess up” and learn from their mistakes, they have every chance of growing wiser and becoming stronger adults and more responsible people.
Punishment, however, is something entirely different. Punishment often leads to feelings of anger, discouragement and resentment, and an increase in evasion and deception. Fear of punishment often results in avoidance of responsibility. A child who fears “getting in trouble” isn’t the same as a child who wants to “make good choices”.
Logical consequences, directly linked to behaviour, help children develop the self-discipline they need to make better choices in the future.
All schools serious about the whole child demonstrate an unwavering commitment to the value of helping students learn from their mistakes.
Such learning is among the most important in life. Failure can be the best teacher, if we let it do its job.