As parents, watching our kids’ tween to teen years can be painful. Everything starts to change all at once. You have puberty setting in which shows up both physically and emotionally. The big emotions, the mood swings, the in-between stage of kid to adolescent and up. As they inch up in years talking over dinner, watching them start thinking more, and conversing more can be lovely and fun. Until it’s not.
Social media, online ads, and glossy magazines make being a teenager look easy. We see laughing, beautiful kids, surrounded by friends. But that’s not always real life; it usually isn’t these days. Between the social and physical stressors, there are academics, world peace, and Covid to contend with.
What they need to navigate through all of this is resilience. Resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ after difficult times. It’s also the ability to adapt to difficult circumstances that you can’t change and keep on thriving. Covid is a great example. We all had a lot to adapt to, and it changed quickly. I see that as one of the positives about our lockdown time. Our kids needed to face tough situations and roll with it. And that’s not easy.
When you’re resilient, you often learn from difficult situations. Mistakes become learning opportunities; a growth mindset is super helpful for this. How do we help them build that, though? Keeping communication channels open and being a safe place for them to put their concerns and emotions is really important. Even though your tweens and teens are establishing their independence, they still need to know that you are there to help and support them.
Another way you can do that is by encouraging that independence. Allow your teen to take on some new decision-making responsibilities about school schedules or social plans. Let them use all of the knowledge you’ve imparted by extending some trust. When possible and not an issue of safety, support their choices—even when you disagree—so they can make mistakes while still having a support system available to help them recover. Trying—and sometimes failing–is how they learn that they are strong and can handle things when they don’t go as planned. We need to teach them how to have a growth mindset, balance emotions, reframe how they look at negative events and embrace who they are. Taking that step back isn’t always easy—not gonna lie—but not only does it help them in building resilience, it helps your relationship and strengthens your connection.
Additional building blocks include self-respect and self-compassion. We can support them on this by validating their feelings and letting them talk about them and then managing them. Give them space to sit with their emotions and work through them instead of ignoring them—and without our swooping in to ease their way. They will learn that anxiety, fear, and anger won’t last forever.
We can also work with our children on how to problem-solve. When they can problem-solve for themselves, that gives them a success to look back on. It lets them know their strength and capabilities. We want to focus on small things, set them up for success, and then celebrate those successes. When they succeed–be it in sports, academics, or anything else- they build confidence.
Now it’s time to look at ourselves and how we handle our own emotions and mistakes. If you are a perfectionist, try to squelch that a bit! Chances are high that you will either pass that behavior on to your child, or they will feel judged or defeated if they let you down. We do not always have to strive for perfection, we do not always shave to put a bow on everything we do. That expectation just sets us, and our kids, up for failure.
Perfection isn’t real, it’s not attainable. Mistakes are literally how we learn–they are information. It’s so important to encourage our kids to try new things, and take small risks. But they won’t do that if they are afraid to get something wrong–or to find their limits and have you see they aren’t perfect. When they don’t reach the mark, help them get there — praise their progress and encourage them to finish successfully. When we back down, they step up!
A child’s self-esteem flourishes when they feel fully supported and safe and loved no matter what they do. We show them their intrinsic value when we validate, trust, and accept them for who they are regardless of their strengths and weaknesses. If they know you will always be there to love them and catch them when they fall, they will be much more able to take risks and strive for whatever star they want to reach. That resilience helps reduce the risk of anxiety and depression; and honestly, we just all need it to get through life and thrive.