My daughter has spent a fair bit of the weekend crying. This isn’t unusual – she’s a habitual crier, a child for whom no issue is too trivial to start her lip trembling. I’m a bit of a crier myself, so I have sympathy, but when her issues ranged as widely from being moved up a gymnastics group (she saw this in no way as the compliment it was; instead the leaving of her current coach and friends was a disaster of epic proportions) to when her brother didn’t want to share a bath with her because he was too busy playing with his Lego – well, that sympathy can wane a bit. I have no idea if all this over-emoting is common of six year olds, or six year old girls (child 1 is not a crier) or just our six year old girl – but it did make me think about resilience and whether we are doing a good enough job of creating it in her.
If you’re a teacher, resilience can be a bit of a buzz word, and, like all buzz words, it can come to lose its meaning. But of all of the buzz words I’ve ever had to work with in education, resilience is the one that resounds the most with me since having my own children. Because sometimes I don’t think we’re creating a society of very resilient children.
It’s hard to raise children to be resilient. I know this as well as anyone, because I’m the over-protective, neurotic type of parent, and, like most parents, my children’s happiness means more to me than anything else in the world. I want them to be happy. I want them to be confident. I want them not to suffer.
And because I want all this for them so badly, I am doubtless guilty of wanting to protect and shelter them too much. In child 1’s worst patch at his previous school, when he cried hopelessly and despairingly and said he didn’t want to go because he wasn’t good enough at learning , i didn’t want him to go either. Because it wasn’t his fault and I hated him to be unhappy. When child 2 came home from school on Friday and told me in despair that she’d worked so hard for the handwriting award all week – and somehow, with no indication from anyone, had convinced herself she would get it – but someone else had, I looked at her big, tear filled eyes and wished she’d got it. Because she had worked hard and I hate her to be disappointed. When child 1 told me after gymnastics on Saturday that he’s the worst in his group and will always be the worst in his group (which is true, because of his dyspraxia) I wanted to tell him he could give up. Because no matter how much he practices, he’ll always struggle with it, and I don’t want him to have to always be the worst.
But my first, and entirely natural, reaction would be unhelpful. Child 1, bar the odd meltdown when his ASD tendencies emerge, is a remarkably resilient child, and the reason for that is that he’s had to be. While child 2 has a perfectionist fit every time she gets a spelling wrong or her writing won’t go exactly the way she wants it or her sum hasn’t worked out, child 1 has never had that luxury. He’s had to work hard for everything to do with school – with the exception of reading, which came naturally and easily to him. And when he couldn’t do it, he had to go back and work hard again. And when school became far from fun, he went every day, usually without protest, and only in the occasional outburst, clearly built up over weeks, did he say he was unhappy and didn’t want to go. I’m proud of that hard-won resilience: it meant an easy, successful transfer to his new school in which he has never had an unhappy moment and in which he flourishes daily, proud of his new work ethic and the learning he does. It means he copes with change and disruption, neither of which come easily to him, in a way far beyond my expectations.
And it makes me think a lot about child 2. She, like me, is tremendously hard on herself. She copes horribly with getting things wrong; she sees it, despite my firm belief in growth mindset and my endless banging on about how getting things wrong leads to getting better at them, as a failure. She has got better: gymnastics is helpful because the only way to improve is to practice, and this year for the first time she sees that changing and improving her work at school doesn’t mean it was terrible to start with. And all the time I try to make her more independent and not give into my desire to try to ‘fix’ things for her, because that will only lead to her never having the confidence to think she can fix things for herself. So when she doesn’t get gymnast of the week, or a merit, or her work doesn’t get noticed the way she wants it to, we talk about how it’s the work she’s done that’s important, not the recognition she got for it. And I try never to forget that she’s still so little- she has so much time.
I think about my own mother, often. She would never have fixed anything for me, not because she didn’t care, but because she knew that wasn’t her job. If someone was horrible to me at school, then i had to find a way through it. If I didn’t do my homework, she would never have written me a note excusing me for it. If I forgot my PE kit, I took the consequence. If I didn’t make the progress she expected, she told me I had to work harder. If I was scared about a test or an exam or a presentation, she helped me prepare for it and told me I had to get on with it. And as a result, she created in me someone who solved her own problems, who took disappointments – cried, naturally – and moved on and fixed it.
That’s what I want for my children. I want them to have confidence. And I know they won’t grow that confidence by my trying to fix every problem they have, and trying to find a solution every time my sweet, fragile daughter cries, no matter how heart breaking I find it. So I am trying to step back, and to watch, and to find the problems that truly need my help. For the rest – I’m here always to listen and to give cuddles – but sometimes they need to seek those solutions alone, just to know that they can.