Taking Charge: I Am Capable

Taking Charge: I am capable

As we continue our discussion of parenting for resiliency, we’re looking at the third of four factors, which is the ability to respond to the vagaries of life by making plans and following through. Resilient people are flexible, being able to face challenges with some measure of optimism and belief that their actions have an impact. So how do we raise capable kids?

  • We look for opportunities for them to make choices;
  • We ask for and welcome their help (even when it’s not so helpful like letting your preschooler dust knowing you’ll need to come behind them to finish up);
  • We point out their accomplishments so they are able to see their own growth (“Do you remember when you were so overwhelmed in math class? And now you’re basically the quadratic equation queen!”);
  • We resist the urge to do things for them even though it might be easier, quicker, or less frustrating;
  • We tell them that they are capable and growing in their capability;
  • We do not rescue them from failure, supporting them in managing their emotional response and helping them figure out ways to move forward anyway;
  • We remain present so that we can bear witness to their efforts, offer support when asked for it, cheer them on when they need it, comfort them if they fail; and celebrate their accomplishments with them.

This list looks easier than it is. We need to bring our own resiliency to it, particularly in managing our emotional response.

We can get anxious watching a child load the dishwasher “wrong” or seeing them make a mess of their big research project. It’s hard to watch our children struggle or suffer; it might make us impatient or even angry. Sometimes we have to walk away so we don’t step in and interfere with their learning.

Adult children of dysfunctional families tend to project our own feelings of abandonment on them, assuming that not stepping in to rescue is the same as neglect. Or we may assume that our failures will inevitably be their failures. In our rush to protect them — to manage the challenge or give them advice or remind them not to get their hopes up — what we’re really doing is sending them the message that they are not capable.

Let’s imagine your tone deaf child wants to go out for the spring musical. You know they can’t sing. Or dance. You picture them up there on the stage, warbling away off-key. You remember your own humiliation going out for track that one time, when you tripped trying to make it over the hurdles. And then your parents’ “I told you so” or their completely indifference. Your stomach hurts remembering it and you can’t stand the thought of your own child going through that — the teasing, the humiliating walk away from the audition. You can’t stand it so you decide the kind thing would be to let them down easy, let them know their limits.

Oh I get it, I do but you can’t do that.

For one (big) thing, you are not your mother and your child is not you. Your child won’t get “I told you so” or have their experience completely ignored. You will be there to remind them that just showing up is a big accomplishment. You will be available to help them process their sadness or embarrassment. Or, who knows, you’ll be there to celebrate that they actually did get a part! Why not? Our children often surprise us.

Parenting for resiliency means you are parenting for your child to withstand failure and to thrive anyway. It’s teaching them to know that failure does not negate their basic worth as a human being (“I am lovable“) and that they have the capacity to manage painful feelings (“I can handle it“). See, parenting for resiliency — not success or happiness — has room for all human experiences.