Like many parents, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the problem of teaching kids resilience. Many children these day grow up with so much, even too much (as mine have) yet modern legend has it that when these children leave home, they lack the confidence, faith in themselves, and grit to withstand the challenges of real life.
I worry about this phenomenon a lot, thinking back to my own childhood in an attempt to isolate what went right in the “producing resilience department.” My loving mother has described her parenting approach as “benign neglect.” She cooked healthy meals and took us on adventures but most of there rest was up to us. Permission slip? Better get it in or you weren’t going on the school trip. Lunch? Pack it yourself or you’ll go hungry. Soccer, basketball or ballet gear? Get that organized or you won’t be participating. Although she spent loads of time with us and talked to us about everything under the sun, my mother never packed a bag for me for an after school activity, corrected my homework, nor set up a playdate. Shoot forward some 30-odd years and I do a lot of these things for my kids because we’re just too busy to get it done otherwise. Not ideal.
How Do You Teach a Child to be Resilient
My kids have been fortunate to spend a lot of time in France where we have friends and family. And they’ve grown up on skis. A few years back, we discovered Giant Slalom and Slalom ski racing. Not enjoying skiing alone (Marc is not much of a skier), I began to train for these races with my kids.
At first, I pretty much stunk at it. With my butt stuck out, I took careful turns, stiff and slow. Yet little by little, I’ve been getting better. This past vacation I earned the bronze medal for GS (only .14 seconds from the silver!) and the Cabri (first level medal) for slalom. My kids actually bought me the medals with their allowance money and I put them on my ski jacket. I have the same medals as the Cloudmom baby Marielle, but I am nonetheless proud. Why?
Petrified the first time I participated in a ski race, my heart pounded like an orchestra through my ski jacket. Scared of falling and hurting myself, and of being generally terrible, my knees shook and I could barely talk. Guess you can call that nerves.
For some reason though, I was determined to race. I think I wanted to prove something to myself and model something to my kids: that nothing in life comes easy, and that if you want to get better at something you better get to work on it in a consistent way, day after day, improving and trying, and putting in the time.
My mother frequently talks about the Malcolm Gladwell theory of 10,000 hours. Gladwell writes that “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness,” using examples such as Bill Gates who began coding software in high school, and the Beatles, who played gigs for years before coming to America as stars. I’ll never reach the greatness of Gates or the Beatles, but I can take inspiration from Gladwell’s theory, as have so many.
Ski racing is a precise sport that demands putting your body into very exact positions, albeit on varying types of terrain, in order to gain speed. You need to be focused, determined, and brave because when you’re turn is up, you have to dash down the mountain as quickly as possible, not worrying about getting hurt.
Life throws us challenges every day. Your child doesn’t listen to you. Your boss passes you over. Your husband is bummed out because he can’t find a job. Maybe a parent gets sick. If you think about it, even when you have it pretty good, not very much about life is easy. My kids are at the beginning of their life journey, but I do think they’ve learned something through ski racing about giving it your all and not giving up, about the value of hard work and perseverence, and about faith in yourself and bravery. When you race, you can either try to win or go tentatively, in which case you won’t be fast. So there is no such thing as the “middle ground,” no safe area. You have to know deep within yourself that you can do it and just throw yourself out there, taking the risk. That to me is resilience.
When you reach the finish line, you know you either went your fastest or not. And then you crave getting even faster. It’s a bit of an addiction and a great life learning tool for kids (and moms). “Never, never give up,” said Winston Churchill.
Never give up on yourself, never give up on your dreams.
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