When interviewing parents and children for positions at school, Tim often asks parents what are their hopes for their children at Inaburra. Often the response is “I want my child to be happy”.
He argued that this is an unrealistic expectation on the school, the child, and parents. It’s impossible for the school to ensure this. It’s impossible for the child to control this and it is impossible for the parents to provide such an experience. In the end, the parent is setting up the school, the child and themselves to fail.
What’s more, desiring for the child to be happy will lead the parent to protect their child that they will discourage them from trying things that are new or challenging for fear of failing and therefore being unhappy. In turn the child takes on the same mindset and they begin to limit themselves to only those things they know they will succeed in.
Such an approach to parenting does nothing for developing resilience. For if a child is never allowed to experience sadness, failure, hurt, rejection etc. they will never become resilient.
Resilience is needed in so many spheres of a child’s life - for example relationships. It’s so easy for children to upset one another with a spiteful comment, a deliberate rejection, a threatening action or a break up with a boyfriend / girlfriend etc. Without resilience these situations can become catastrophic in your child’s mind where the situation becomes overwhelming, soul destroying and makes them feel devastated. Resilience is needed to deal with the ups and downs of relationships of life.
Likewise, resilience is required in education if children are going to be effective learners. Tim cited the work of Carol Dweck who distinguishes between a ‘fixed mindset’ and a ‘growth mindset’ when it comes to learning. The child with a fixed mindset will say to themselves or to us as parents “I’m no good at _______ (maths, running, English etc)” and will therefore allow their fixed mindset to limit their ability to learn. A growth mindset acknowledges current limitations in a particular skill set or area of life but is willing to work at learning the skills required, fail and persevere in order to improve in that aspect of life. A fixed mindset lacks resilience whereas a growth mindset develops resilience.
Therefore it is a good thing to cultivate the characteristic of resilience in our children to help them better navigate life in this world.
Tim suggested there are four things we can do as parents to help our children develop resilience
1. Connect Them To A Charismatic Adult
This is someone who is ideally ½ a generation older (say 8 years) who the child connects with and looks up to who can show an interest in the child. Such a person can not only be there for the child to bounce ideas, care and concerns around with, but also provide a role model to them of what it looks like to live life. Examples of such a person could be an aunt / uncle, sports coach, youth group leader, Sunday school teacher, scouts leader etc
2. Connection With Something Bigger Than Themselves
This is being involved with a group or organisation that has goals and a purpose for existing that is bigger or broader than the life of the child. Something where they are not the centre of the universe, but rather part of something bigger than them. Examples of this include a faith / religion, scouts, band, sporting club etc
3. Developing Positive Self Talk
The memory was a bit sketchy on this, but basically, helping your child to develop a positive way of thinking about difficult situations. Getting them to see what did go well and what can they learn for next time rather than thinking the world is about to end and this is the way it will always be forever!
4. Developing An Island Of Competency
A great thing to help develop resilience in a child is to find and encourage an ‘island of competency’. That is, a skill or hobby etc that the child enjoys and can develop and grow in. This may or may not be something they are naturally good at. Just because a child is naturally a fast runner, doesn’t mean this is builds resilience especially if they don’t train and merely rely on their God given talent. But if a child is encouraged to train, practice, research, learn, display their particular competency that process will inherently help to develop resilience
Tim went on to describe the thing that is the single biggest factor in undermining resilience within a child is overprotective parents.
When parents are constantly running interference for their children and stepping in whenever they get hurt, are left out, fail a test, aren't selected in the sporting team etc, then all they are doing for their children is developing a dependence on their parents and not teaching them to be resilient. Children will never develop a resilient character if they are never allowed to experience hurt, failure, rejection etc.
Tim likened parents who do this to those members of a curling team who skate in front of the puck furiously brushing the ice to smooth the way for it to reach its goal. While we can swing to the opposite end of the spectrum and completely abdicate our responsibilities as parents and not care at all for our children, Tim’s observation as an educator is the overwhelming trend is for parents to be far too protective.
His exhortation for us as parents was to allow our children to take on challenges, give them some rope, stretch themselves so they can learn to work things out, fail, try again and then succeed.
Finally Tim, finished by pointing out that what this topic is nothing new to us a humanity because when we look to the ‘ancient texts’ we see mankind has recognised resilience is a good thing. In the Bible, in the book of Hebrews it says:
“Hebrews 12:7-11 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
Tim acknowledged that the Christian world view helps us make sense of hardships we face in life. Our creator God allows us to endure such hardships in life for our good. While most often we don’t know why such hardships happen, we do know that God allows it to happen for our good.
 Tim encouraged us to look her up on-line and watch her TED talks and other on-line material