Recently I am being asked more and more to share a talk I have created on building resilience in children. The basic foundation of the workshop is intentionally teaching our children how to forgive. For any children in our lives, we need to actively find ways to eliminate brittle bitterness. Instead, we need to model and teach how forgiveness is actually a way to build resilience rather than weakness.
Forcing our children to say they are sorry is the least effective technique we can utilize. Providing opportunities to instead say “I forgive you” creates an environment of peaceful unification. Resilience creates an environment in which both setbacks and successes are treated as positive learning experiences so our children are not broken by their experiences. When we fail to teach this mindset to children we actually strengthen a spirit of fear and mistrust which weakens their spirits of resolve. We let our children down if we try to protect our children from every possible bad thing that could happen. We also let them down by not preparing them and giving them the tools they need in this life. God has never told us life would be easy. Our hope is in Him, not in what we avoid.
Resilience creates an environment in which both setbacks and successes are treated as positive learning experiences so our children are not broken by their experiences.
Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health, lowering the risk of heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. And research points to an increase in the forgiveness-health connection as you age.
However, the main purpose of teaching forgiveness is the biblical commands presented and modeled to us over and over again by God. Jesus is the reason we can be forgiven and he is the reason we can forgive others. While we don’t want our children to carry an identity of sin and feel a constant need for forgiveness, we want them to understand that we all make mistakes and because of Jesus, we are forgiven. Share that when we come to him and admit our need for his forgiveness, he responds to us with outstretched arms. Because of Jesus’ example, we know how to respond to others. We love (and forgive) because he first loved (and forgave) us.
Here are three perhaps unusual ways to build resilience in children that can lead to a gentle peaceful heart that is strengthened to weather the storms of this life through forgiveness.
- Three Ways: So many times when we are hurt by others or circumstances it can feel like its the worse situation that could have ever arisen. In reality, when we have enough time and space we can gain a new more positive perspective on difficult and devastating situations. Walk your child through three ways this situation could have been worse. Discuss the feelings, what it would like, and then discuss gratitude for the current situation not being the result of these three other ways.
- Plastic Funny Shield: Researchers have found again and again that survivors of horrific tragedies share one thing in common. A strong sense of humor. Laughter truly is the best medicine and can provide a shield of defense for everything our children are going to have to endure. Teach your children to look for the silly, the unexpected, and to laugh out loud at any opportunity. Do not disregard the power of teaching your preschoolers tongue twisters, your elementary students non-sensical punch lines, practical jokes, or your tweens and teens to laugh at jokes about the human experience.
- Practical Problem Solving: Somehow we have all fallen into the trap that unscheduled time brings pain and horror upon ourselves and our children. How many of us have loaded apps and games onto our devices to protect our children from <gasp>…waiting. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children to build their resilience to anything that comes their way is to make the most of what they have. Bricoleurs are always tinkering—building radios from household effects or fixing their own cars. They make the most of what they have, putting objects to unfamiliar uses. They are incredibly resourceful. Create Tinker Trays, Inventor Boxes, Loose Part Exploration to practically build this sense of resourcefulness into your children’s day to day activities rather than trying to protect them from it. These types of activities teach our children that things don’t always turn out perfectly or the way we think they should but they still have value.
By and large, build resiliency in your children through giving them a better grasp of reality at each stage of life they are in. Build their hearts and minds through humor and laughter. Don’t bubble wrap your kids now thinking they are better off in the long run.
I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the LORD your God, am with you in all you do.