Raising Them to Leave Us: Part 2

Raising Them to Leave Us Fostering Resilience  Pt. 2

Fostering resilience in teens can be scary for us as parents as we learned in Part 1 of this blog post. By providing them with the appropriate supports, we are helping them to launch successfully into adulthood.

Early development of resilience.

The fundamentals of resiliency start in infancy and continue on into early childhood. During this period, little ones are completely reliant on their primary attachment figure, be it a parent or other caregiver, to meet their every need. Through this bond they learn to trust and that they are worthy of having their needs met. Lots of nurturing and lots of responsiveness.

The next important step on the road to resilience is for, this All-Knowing Attachment Figure (aka you) to encourage your youngster to venture out, to explore, and thus build confidence in his ability to do so. As parents, we need to cheer them on. To encourage their independence while keeping an eye out for the dangerous situations that they might need us. 

This dynamic needs to continue until your teenager finds herself reading a similar blog about supporting her own kids. Of course, within minutes she will close her holographic-data-transferring-temporal-device (or whatever future tech she has) and call you. After all, you supported her in becoming the resilient person she is. Well, will be. 

What if you are concerned about the letting go part?

If your kiddos are still little and you find yourself reading this blog post about teenage resiliency to prepare yourself for those future teenage years, there is a chance you struggle with some unwanted worry and anxiety… This, of course, is my feeble attempt at humor. But… I am a therapist. So I might be onto something here. Nevertheless, it’s important that you find ways to work through your own anxiety. This will help you let him explore the world and his capabilities without completely losing your marbles. Remember, the ultimate goal is to prepare him to leave you. And, you need to be prepared to let him go.

Here at Dawn Institute, we can guide you in working through that anxiety and worry so you are able to be the cheerleader he needs you to be.

What if your concern is more about the being emotionally sensitive part? 

Well, good news! We can help with that too! This might sound ironic but, like those of us who struggle with loving too tightly, chances are you struggle with some trauma too. Kids and teens need your patience and understanding.

They need you to be emotionally in tune with them, so they have the confidence to be open with you. They need you to validate their feelings and listen to them about their opinions and thoughts. They need this so that they are acutely aware of how valuable they are and how worthy they are of other people’s time, because circumstances in life are going to challenge those assumptions. They need to know they are important. And guess what? You are their first reflection. So show make sure it’s a good one.

In the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “If we treat them as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

Here are some ways to further help your teen build resilience.

Teach Emotional Regulation

It’s important to work with your teenager to help her manage her emotions. The number one rule is to avoid interactions when we are elevated, meaning very anxious, irritable, angry, etc. Our actions become easily justified in the moment. Think about it, when is the last time you said something to someone out of anger and later regretted it? You were not following rule number one. So, teach your teenager to take a “breather” when she is very upset. When she calms down it will be time to come back to the situation if need be. We must be balanced in mind and rational when dealing with difficult situations. Mindfulness is a great way to support these self-regulation muscles. 

Mindfulness: purposefully being in the moment and it helps us lower our feelings of stress so we can better manage the issue at hand.

Make Social Connection a Priority 

We all need social connection. It is a natural human instinct. We are social creatures, and we get so much from interacting with others. Belonging is another human need that goes along with social connection. The more your teen feels confident they belong, the more they will feel confident they are supported, valued, and needed. These important social connections include the family most importantly, but also school, with peers, and in the community. Confident and supported people get through tough situations with much more grace and resilience.

Keep Communication Open

Your teen needs to be able to talk to you and not be too worried about burdening you or getting in trouble. Even if they have made a mistake, it is important to acknowledge their honesty. This may mean you will have to hear things you don’t want to hear and not instinctively react. This is a good time to practice your own emotion regulation skills.Many parents complain that their teens aren’t truthful with them. Well, you might not want to hear this, but there is a good chance they don’t tell you the truth because they believe they will get in trouble no matter what. This may not be the case at all but if they have had trauma that has caused them to not trust people, they are going to need you to show them they can trust you before they venture off into the world. 

Don’t Punish Emotions

We can’t control our emotions. Well, teenagers can’t, and most adults can’t either, for that matter. Your teenager should be allowed to have emotional responses to things. What you want to redirect, however, is the unhealthy behavioral choices they make while having an emotional response. Remember what I said about the number one rule? Remind her that she is allowed to be angry and remember to validate her reason for anger (even if you don’t agree with it). Then remind her that being angry does not justify her breaking a rule or violating the rights of others, either physically, emotionally, or verbally. When she is calm again, and in an emotional place to entertain the idea that her response was inappropriate, is a perfect time to work on those mindfulness skills with her.

Keep High Expectations 

I know what you’re thinking. And as a professional in mental health, I know all too well that this can do more harm than good when taken out of context. So let me be clear… When I say high expectations, I do not mean expect perfection. I do not mean demand straight A’s, or only acknowledge hard work when she makes first place or lecturing him the whole drive home because he struck out every time he was up to bat. No, no, no. 

What I mean is know your kid. Know what he is capable of and recognize him for his effort. Pay attention to where she struggles and, instead of criticism, remind her of her strengths. Work with him to develop a plan that utilizes his strengths in areas he struggles with the most. If she excels in sports but has a hard time turning in homework, help her determine what skills she has that make her a great teammate. Maybe there is a skill that can be transferred to help her handle this dilemma. Perhaps she is very good at maintaining focus during practices. This can certainly serve her well in carving out a distraction-free time everyday to only focus on homework.

Resilient people have confidence in their capabilities, which help them work through things. To put it simply, they know they can do great things because they were given opportunities to achieve at their highest potential. 

Enforce Accountability

Confidence is an important quality when it comes to overcoming hard things. Responsible teenagers make for confident adults. He may not be your biggest fan when you’re assigning him chores for the week or taking away her phone because you warned her that would be the consequence if she broke curfew. I assure you, however, they will thank you later and will be all the more equipped to make responsible decisions in life. 

It is also important to remind them of why there are rules. Why you hold them accountable for their choices. For instance, explain to him that he has chores because it is everyone’s responsibility in the family to do their part. Or, that it is inconsiderate not to show up on time because it causes you to worry about her wellbeing unnecessarily. Let them know you need to trust them to make good choices so you can ease off the brakes. This gradually allows them freedom. 

And freedom is what you need to give them… Little by little. As they show they are capable of following your guidance and will let you know when they need your help. 

Life is full of unexpected bumps and disasters that can neither be prevented or prepared for. Your teenager will have to experience some hardships as an adult. She needs you to help her build resilience so that she has confidence in her strength to persevere and self-compassion to heal.

Be the example.

Lastly, the most valuable tool you can use to help your teen build the resilience needed to navigate the pains of life is modeling resilience for them. Modeling desired behaviors is the most effective way to influence change in others. Yes, that means if you want your teenager to be resilient you’ve got to work through your own challenges first and show them how to be resilient. 

If you would like more information on building resilience or have some concerns about working through your own trauma, please reach out to Dawn Institute. You can also ask about our upcoming therapy group, Breaking the Cycle, in which I will take you through a more in-depth look at how to overcome your own trauma, either in childhood or anytime in life, so that you can support your children in the development of resilience. 

Breaking the Cycle isn’t easy but, if you could give your kids anything, give them the chance at a better life. Do the work so they won’t have to.