Raising Emotionally Agile Children

By Susan David

There is no impulse more natural than the desire of parents to protect their children. 

Woe to the unlucky hiker who gets between a grizzly and its cub, or even the duck and its duckling! We humans possess those same instincts, and they often manifest in efforts to make things right for our kids.

Nobody wants to see their child in distress. However, the tendency to rush to their defense can wind up exacerbating their anxieties rather than alleviating them. 

By shielding our kids from the parts of life that make them nervous, we can inadvertently discourage growth and impede the development of emotional agility.

When your child is facing a stressor, here are a few steps you can take to help them manage it without infringing on their autonomy.

Instead of rushing to help your kid avoid the problem, or even immediately providing them with possible solutions, listen to their anxieties and validate their experiences. They need to know that you’re on their team. Their issues are not just boxes to check before you move on to the next thing. For them, they’re real and all-consuming. Honor that.

Empathize with them and find connections with what they’re going through.

This doesn’t mean pretending that you have all the same fears, but draw on your own experience to let them know that they’re not alone. Just knowing that their parents sometimes feel vulnerable can help to reassure kids.

Finally, help your children explore the sources of their anxieties. Once you’ve figured out what’s really worrying them, you can brainstorm together about steps they can take to navigate their situation. Ask open-ended questions that will help them solve the problem themselves.

As much as we might like to, we can’t always be there to whisk our children away from fear or pain. It is, in fact, the job of a parent to prepare them to handle these experiences on their own. Show them that you support them, but give them the space and freedom to grow into emotionally agile adults.


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