How to Build Strong Kids

On April 15th, I attended a fascinating presentation by psychotherapist Alice Virgil on how to raise strong and resilient children.   Ms. Virgil described two diametrically opposed family dynamics:  the over controlled family (I will make sure no pain comes to you) and the hands off family (life is tough – deal with it).   Ideally, a family wants to be somewhere in between.   Here are bullet points for achieving that objective:

Relationships — It’s important to have them.  Develop empathy with others in the sense that we are all in this together;

Creativity — Help children stretch their thinking:  how to make a meal, how to play with a cardboard box, how to be occupied without an IPhone or television;

Awareness — Develop social awareness such that a child learns to “read” situations and social cues;

Initiative and courage — Learn to do the right thing at the right time.  Learn how to work hard and put in effort to achieve;

Morality — Develop a moral code.  Learn what is right – and what is wrong; and

Spirituality — Develop a sense of purpose.  Learn that we all have a reason to be in this world.  Say grace at meals.   

Praising a child?  Absolutely.  But never praise results or outcome.  Always praise effort.  

So what can parents and grandparents do to build strong and resilient kids? 

1.  Practice gratefulness — Discuss the best of the day – and the worst.  Teach joy and appreciation;

2.  Practice mindfulness — Give attention to the present moment with kindness, curiosity and compassion.  This helps children respond reflectively rather than reflexively;

3.  Emotion coaching — Help children understand their emotions;

4.  Develop a strong marriage and family home;

5.  Allow unstructured unsupervised free play — Forget the gimmicks, complex toys and oversight.

Ms. Virgil’s comments have been borne out by research and experience.   Ms. Virgil’s website is 

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