By: Dad Goes Round


A while ago I wrote about resilience and wrestling with questions about how I could help my children to develop resilience.  Since I wrote that post I have been doing some reading.  I generally don’t read much parenting advice because I don’t find it particularly helpful.  Either I disagree with the recommendations or they are in direct opposition to the last piece of advice I read.  Our kids are still alive so I think we are doing an ok job so far…

In my earlier post I referenced this episode of The Agenda on TVO in which several authors spoke on the topic of developing resilience in children.  I enjoyed this discussion and as a result requested a few of their books from the library.
I recently finished reading “Mindset” by Carole  Dweck.  She posits that there are two primary mind sets that people hold – often a mix of the two depending on the topic.  She says that we can have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
A fixed mindset assumes that only certain things are possible for certain people.  That we have a preordained outcome based on abilities that we are born with.  It is more black and white.  One is smart or not, creative or not, a natural athlete or not, a success or a failure.
A growth mindset assumes anything is possible with effort and practice; that failures are really opportunities for learning and improving.
Dweck seems to start the book with an argument that people either have one mindset or another.  This is really just a presentation of the two extremes so that she can better illustrate the concepts.  We are fluid people and can shift from one mindset to another depending on circumstances.  We can also have a growth mindset with regards to some aspects of our lives and a fixed mindset in other areas.  I certainly found myself thinking of exceptions within my own mindset when I was reading the book.
I would say that I generally have a growth mindset, however I have long carried a fixed mindset when it comes to learning French.  I have been “trying” to learn French since I was 12, although I much of that effort was wasted because I was afraid of sounding dumb because I couldn’t speak as well in French as in English. I think I didn’t really believe that I could learn the language well.  Something about teaching an old dog new tricks and all that.   After 20 years at the intermediate level I recently graduated to advanced and I find my mindset shifting.  I am more willing to speak or write in French when applicable.  I am comfortable making mistakes and letting others help me learn from them.  It has taken a long time and I am getting there.
She suggests that we as adults can promote the development of a growth mindset in kids and in ourselves and other adults by focusing on the effort.  Praise the behaviour, not the individual.  Instead of saying “you are so creative;” say “that is a very creative idea.”
This book was equally helpful to my thinking about how I approach life and opportunities as it was to my thinking about how I can support my kids and their development.
I have also just finished reading “Drop the Worry Ball” by Dr. Alex Russell.  He writes about the need for parents to back off and let kids learn from their actions.  He argues that it is much better for kids’ development and parents’ sanity if we can “parent from the park bench.”  When kids are young we sit on the bench and watch them play and then as they get older we tend to get more involved in what they are doing.  We coerce our kids into doing their homework and going to school and work etc.  In essence we begin to take on the responsibility and ownership for things that our kids need to take for themselves.  As a result we as parents pick up the anxiety that the kids need to feel as part of their development.
park bench
He argues that we need to maintain that parenting from the park bench role (present, but not controlling; separate, but interested) throughout their growth.  Kids don’t always need to hear praise from us, often they are simply seeking acknowledgement of their effort.  I tried this out at the park last weekend.  When my four year old called for me to watch her climb a chain ladder that she has been working to master, I watched her from the bench and when she made it to the top and shouted “Daddy! Look at me!” I said “wow, look at you, you are at the top.”  She got a big grin on her face and proceeded to do it all over again, making extensive use of the twirly slide to get back down.
She accomplished this without my help and without me standing beside her so that I could catch her if she fell.  It was a tough thing to do.  As the girls build their climbing and play structure competence I find myself having to hold my tongue more and more often.  They need to take the risks of climbing the structure in ways that are not necessarily the way the structure is intended to be climbed.  They need to experiment and stretch themselves to learn and build their confidence.  Whenever I get the urge to warn them or ask them to stop doing something that is potentially dangerous I try to step back and think about the kids of stuff I was doing at their age.
On this particular park excursion my effort to stay on the bench gave them more space to experiment and be creative.  That led to a ride on the imagination train where we had peanut butter and chocolate sandwiches from the peanut butter and chocolate sandwich tree.
Russell says that we as parents need to allow our children to experience “painful, non-catastrophic failures” as learning experiences and opportunities to develop appropriate coping skills. He challenges parents to maintain perspective.  We need to be aware of our own anxiety and how it affects our perception of the risks faced by our children.  It also means that we need to be aware of how much we identify with what our children are doing.  He cites an example of his son playing hockey on the same team in the same arena that he himself had played on as a boy.  He realized that he was spending a lot of time and spending a great deal of emotional energy viewing his son’s performance as a reflection of himself. This brought with it many expectations that he placed on his son which made it difficult for them to both enjoy the experience.  It also made it difficult to allow his son the space he needed to develop as his own person.
He suggests that “the inadvertent negative consequence of our parental hovering” is that “we unwittingly tell our kids that the knocks of the world are quite terrible and should be avoided at all costs.”
I could write quite a lot about these books and the ideas and suggestions contained within, but I’m not going to since my objective is not to rewrite them here.  As I said at the beginning I don’t read many parenting books or so-called experts because I think we are doing an ok job so far and I think everyone needs to find what works for their own kids.  We have had to develop different strategies for each of our kids so far and I think that is probably true for most parents and kids.  I will however recommend taking a look at these books if you are looking for some ideas on how you can help children to develop resilience.