We’re not breaking new ground to note that life seems to come with ups and downs. And…we want to spare our kids the downs. Still, we hope to help them make the most of challenging situations and grow from those opportunities, developing resiliency that will serve them well throughout their lives. To accomplish both, one of the most valuable things we can do as parents is to serve as a non-anxious presence. Stress is contagious. We can easily pick up on the fear of other people and infecting others with our own. That is especially true with our kids who have quite literally spent their entire lives studying our faces for clues about how to respond to their environment.
Catch your son preparing to fling a pickle at his brother? A sly wink of the eye at the casual picnic says, “Go for it!” while a furrowed brow at Grandma’s Thanksgiving dinner says, “Not on your Life, Buster!”
With admission decisions from private schools coming out this week, plan for jubilation but prepare for disappointment. How your kids respond to rejection will have as a big an impact on their lives as whether they get rejected. The science of resilience and motivation shows that what kids benefit from most is the opportunity to challenge themselves (which means not always winning, or else maybe it wasn’t such a challenge) and a nurturing environment to recover, licking their wounds (and wounded pride) and gathering the courage and strength to try again. How you respond to a rejection will make a big impact on how your kids handle it. The more we as parents can be non-anxious, to have confidence that there is a viable Plan B, the easier it is for our kids to do so as well.
The good news is there many things we can do, and some are relatively easy. Here are a few:
- “Put on your own oxygen first.” Just as stress is contagious, so is calm. Our very presence, when calm, lowers the stress in our kids. Get enough sleep. Exercise a little more. Take care of you so you can take care of your child.
- Plan for the worst possible scenario and make peace with that. The “safety school” may not be one you or your child is most jazzed for but we have safeties for a reason. Make peace with that and know there will be more opportunities to grow, learn and succeed.
- Have a Plan B. The great researcher Sonia Lupien of the Centre for the Studies of Human Stress notes that having a Plan B lowers stress by increasing a sense of control over unpredictable (and therefore scary) situations. And, “children are very good at finding Plan Bs because they have a lot of imagination.”
- Take the long view. We all know people who took twisty paths to success. There are way more people with successful lives that there are people who had everything go their way at every turn. And, if you reflect on your own life, many things that at first seemed disastrous ended up be the very things that supported future success or led you in a new direction you never imagined.
- Make enjoying your child your highest priority. Many children feel or fear that their parents care more about their grades or school than they do about them. Even if that isn’t your message, it may be one they picked up as school, with the incessant focus on grades and, down the line, college admissions. Make every effort to enjoy your child as a person. That glow of attention and affection is, even to a chemical level, a source of lower stress and greater motivation for your child. And, it feels wonderful to love your kid. We can all, as parents, have what we feel to be the most wonderful kids in the world. There’s no limited number of slots.