Preschool is all about experimenting and encountering activities for the first time. During the preschool years, your child meets new peers, learns fresh skills, and begins to learn about himself as an individual. And although preschool age may seem a little young to start teaching your child to be resilient, these are the optimal times to help your child understand what it means to believe in himself.
Resilience is sort of like a rubber band. Parents want their children to be able to move and stretch their imagination, talents, and emotions, and yet be able to spring back to their original self at the end of the day. A resilient child can go to school, tangle with a friend at playtime, spill paint on her shirt, and yet return home the same child that you left at school that morning. How can parents give their children the ability to rebound when something is hard or does not go their way? Here are four approaches to helping your preschooler become a more confident and resilient child.
Avoid Quick Fixes
The key to fostering resiliency in preschoolers is to allow your child to “fall” and learn to get back up again. Parents can help their child learn that if they make a mistake, don’t win the race, or trip and fall, they have the internal strength to get through it and come out alright on the other side.
If, for example, you’re at the park and your son falls down, don’t immediately run to his side to help him get back up, because then he won’t learn to get up by himself. Instead, wait a minute and see whether your child will get up on his own, and then talk him through the experience. “Wow, you were running like lightening! I love to watch you run. Let’s dust off those that knee and go find your friends.” In this situation, you have concentrated your child on the act of what he was doing, instead of focusing on the problem and fixing it for him.
This can be translated into many areas of your child’s life. By allowing children to learn to work through issues or problems, a parent is showing them that they can figure it out on their own.
Praise Persistence Over Perfection
The concept of perfection can often be a roadblock for children, and can negatively influence the self-confidence they need to become resilient. Teach your child that perfection is not reality. “Kids need to have the freedom to discover that working hard is often good enough. Praising a 3 or 4 year old for their effort goes a long way,” says kindergarten teacher Alicia Stapes. “If a young child grows up thinking she will need to have a perfect drawing or do a perfect somersault, the child learns to focus more on the final product, instead of her hard work.”
To put the focus on effort and process, rather than outcome, avoid the word “perfection” when talking with your child. Instead of, “That looks perfect!” try “The house you drew is so creative, how did you pick those colors?” In this way, you are praising your child for her actions rather than solely focusing on the ultimate result.
Set an Example
In teaching resilience, think about whether you as a parent convey confidence and resilience yourself. Linda Williams, MFT, a longtime family therapist, believes this concept is one of the most important in teaching your child inner strength. “Parents are the ones who need to lead by example and verbalize mistakes they make,” she says. “They help their children realize that life is about ups and downs, and if mom and dad show they can make it through a tough situation, their little child learns to believe she can, too.”
To model good attitudes for your child, refrain from using words like “never” or “always.” If you are stressed about a deadline at work or can’t fix a problem and say “I will never make this deadline,” or “I can’t do it,” you are conveying the message when something seems difficult, it’s okay to just give up. Instead, you might say, “This is such a tough deadline, but if I work hard, I can get it done.” It’s beneficial for your child to hear you talk in phrases that show persistence.
Make Room for Choices
Feeling pushed to be a certain way or given no opportunity to make choices can prevent a preschooler from building the self-confidence needed to foster resilience. Allow your preschooler to make choices and support them wholeheartedly. If your daughter puts on a striped shirt and plaid skirt in crazy colors, tell her she looks great and have her leave the house with confidence that she dressed herself and was supported. If your son comes to breakfast and tells you he brushed his hair by himself, praise him for his actions and let him go to school instead of fixing his hair. Preschool is the ultimate time to allow your child to express himself, without being judged by others. It is this type of parental support that will help your child grow confidence and nurture strong self-esteem.
By guiding your sons and daughters to work through problems on their own, teaching that perfection is not a reality, and supporting choices your child makes each day, you can say goodbye to the frustration and fear, and look forward to a stronger and more confident child in the future.