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 www.virgiltherapy.com