As Georgette Constantinou sees it, the best way to help your kids overcome letdowns and failures is to be a role model of perseverance and problem solving − a nurturer and supporter, but not a fixer.
Dr. Constantinou, a pediatric psychologist at Akron Children’s Hospital, believes the key to raising emotionally healthy children is teaching resilience. She sees children and teens in emotional crisis on a regular basis. It can be about school, social media, family issues, a breakup or worse.
Her advice to parents: Acknowledge your child’s emotions. Explore their feelings. Help strategize ways to manage problems. Then get out of the way. And be ready to support your child if things don’t work out exactly as he wished or planned.
“You can’t step in and solve your children’s life problems,” said Dr. Constantinou, the administrative director of pediatric psychiatry and psychology at Akron Children’s. “They’re not all number one, everyone doesn’t get an A. Teach them life is bumpy. Nobody is promising you an un-bumpy life.
“Too many parents are putting their kids in a bubble, fixing their problems instead of teaching them how to solve problems,” Dr. Constantinou said.
There’s a lot of good research and expert advice out there about teaching children how to recognize and understand feelings, and how to deal with them. These skills, sometimes referred to as emotional intelligence, can have a positive impact on self-esteem, relationships, health and well being throughout life.
It’s all about empowering kids to meet life’s challenges, Dr. Constantinou said.
“If I can’t cope with stuff, I’m going to become anxious, I’m going to become depressed. I might even start believing that life would be easier if I wasn’t here at all.”
Teach your kids that feelings pass. Help them get out of “self-focus” by turning attention to compassion for others (How do you think grandma feels being alone every day? How can we help her through it?). Volunteer at a hospital or hunger center.
Let them know you believe in them unconditionally (close attachments are key to building resiliency in children and teens). Help them brainstorm ways to solve problems. If the problem is a school bully, point out that the bully’s goal is to make other people feel bad. Don’t give power to the putdowns.
“If the bully is saying you’re stupid and ugly, I say give me the evidence that’s true,” said Dr. Constantinou.
She sometimes asks young patients to write down all the negative things about themselves. Then she asks them to write down their strengths. “They start getting into it. And soon they see their strengths double the list of negatives.”
To help parents help their kids, Dr. Constantinou recommends the book, Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings, by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg (fosteringresilience.com).
But if strategies at home aren’t working, she recommends seeking professional help.