Roots and Wings

Good parenting is critical for the development of children.  In my post of October 31, 2011, I spoke of how nature and nurture play a significant role in the growth and development of children.  How it is best to guide a child to achieve his or her greatest and highest potential rather than to “steer” a child into a parent’s choices of interests, profession and schools. 

In my post of April 23, 2012, I mentioned my attendance at a wonderful presentation by psychotherapist Alice Virgil who spoke on how to build strong kids (and on the things parents and grandparents can do to participate in this development).  Tops on her list were encouraging relationships, creativity, awareness, courage, initiative, morality and spirituality.  

Last Sunday in a sermon, our priest added further inspiration for parents using a famous quote of Henry Ward Beecher.  “The greatest bequest we can give our children is roots and wings.”  The book Hot Chocolate for the Soul expands on this point — and provides context:  “Good parents give their children roots and wings.  Roots to know where their home is, and wings to fly and put into practice what they have learned.”    

It’s a tough job being a parent (easier being a grandparent :)) but little words of wisdom like those above can’t help – but help.   

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