Modeling Resilience

Resilience is a dying word in our society, in my opinion. It’s the capacity to recover quickly from difficult circumstances or the ability of a substance to spring back into shape after being stretched. Although making accommodations for certain trauma is certainly necessary and understandable, not all difficulties or “stretching” is considered trauma. In the old therapy days, trauma was defined by an event in which a person feared for his/her life. Now we seem to attach the term trauma to any uncomfortable experience. I’m not saying I have an easy answer about where the line should be drawn, and it obviously varies from person to person, but here are a few things I do know:

  1. A parent who uses a firm voice (maybe even yelling at times) is not traumatizing a child unless the other parent defines it that way for the child.
  2. When a child cries because he doesn’t want to go to the other parent’s house, it doesn’t build resilience to hold him tightly, with tears, as if he is going off to war!
  3. When a teen is angry or upset with a parent, she doesn’t need to be told she has rights. She needs to be told no one’s perfect and that a big part of any important relationship is learning acceptance.

Life is not easy and to send the message to any child that it should be is preparing them for disappointment and failure, not resiliency. If your children are experiencing real trauma (life endangering events), then I would expect you to move mountains to protect them by any means possible. But if life is difficult, teach them resiliency by being the parent who models unconditional love, acceptance, integrity, forgiveness, tolerance, healthy boundaries, and kindness (stretching to extend some of those to your co-parent). If they learn these from your example, they’ll be able to cope with anything life throws at them in the future.