Building resilience is a crucial part of growing up and maturing. As kids go through different stages of life, they naturally build resilience through their experiences and observations. Some lessons should be taught through instruction, like not touching the hot stove or sticking fingers into sockets. But others should be learned the hard way to help kids grow independent and figure out how to make good choices in the future. Here are five life lessons kids should learn the hard way.
For many children, playing with classmates and making new friends can be easy. It isn’t often that toddlers and kindergarteners develop friendships with ulterior motives or gossip. But with older children, relationships become more nuanced. It becomes less about being somebody to play with and more about personality, looks, or status. You can teach your children how to make conversation, the traits of good friends, and ways to solve problems, but they may still choose friends that don’t bring out the best in them.
It can be difficult to watch your kids deal with friendship drama or hang out with an unruly crew from the sidelines, but trying to protect them by attempting to control their friendships won’t help them in the long run. If they choose to make unhealthy friendships, all you can do is advise them the best you can while giving them the autonomy to make their own choices. As a parent, all you can do is advise them and be someone they can turn to for comfort without feeling judged. It doesn’t mean you have to approve of every friend, but it is important that your child feels accepted and supported even if you disagree with their decisions. Building friendships is something kids can only learn through trial and error to develop their social skills and figure out what type of people they want to have in their life.
2. Behaviors Have Natural Consequences
As kids become more independent, they start testing their boundaries and begin learning through trial and error. Kids should practice their autonomy, and though some behaviors, like running across the street or touching fire, should be stopped before anything bad happens, others, like leaning backward on a small chair or not listening to or following directions, have natural consequences kids need to experience to learn.
You can tell your child not to do something, and we all know that most kids will do it anyway if they really want to. But instead of controlling their behaviors, allow them to make mistakes. Let them experience the natural consequence, and instead of saying, “I told you so,” or shaming them, let the result speak for itself. Trying to protect your child or solve their problems for them will only hurt your child in the long run and teach them that the world will succumb to their behaviors. Once they’re out of the nest and in the real world, they will learn quickly that their behaviors will have more severe consequences if they don’t know how to make good choices now.
3. Mistakes Happen
Similar to learning that every behavior has a natural consequence, mistakes happen as kids learn through trial and error. Maybe your child accidentally bumps into another kid and makes them fall. Perhaps they change their answer on a spelling test and get it wrong. Maybe they get in trouble for doing something they weren’t supposed to. Instead of letting them blame themselves or others for their mistakes, help them realize making mistakes doesn’t mean they’re a bad kid. Instead, it’s how we learn from mistakes that help us improve in the future.
Even if bumping into a friend was an accident, they should still apologize and try to help them up. If they did poorly on a spelling test because they made many errors, they could do better next time by studying more. And if they got caught doing something they weren’t supposed to, they can learn to make better choices next time and remedy their mistakes. Mistakes don’t define us, and that’s an important lesson kids need to learn by making some mistakes of their own.
4. Life Isn’t Always Fair
“It’s not fair!” How many times have you heard that from your kids? Life isn’t always fair, but we often try to make it that way to keep the peace. It’s easier to let them win or make things even between siblings to avoid meltdowns, whining, or negative self-talk. However, coping when things aren’t fair is crucial for children to learn early on. Avoiding meltdowns by giving in to your child’s demands doesn’t help; it gives them the false expectation that everyone will bend to their will.
Losing a game, not getting called on in class for a fun activity, or getting the smallest piece of dessert happens, and we all learn to deal with disappointment. It can be challenging or frustrating listening to your child cry or whine about things not being fair, but help them to see these experiences as opportunities for growth. Even if they didn’t get what they wanted that someone else did, how can they do something about it or use a coping strategy to regulate their strong emotions? Young children may not be able to understand this abstract concept until they’re older, but it’s a tough lesson they will need to learn to be able to deal with unfair situations in the future.
5. Uncomfortable Feelings Are Okay
On the first day of school, it’s natural for kids to experience lots of big feelings. Many experience separation anxiety on the first day, and they can feel nervous, excited, or sad throughout the week. But just because they’re afraid doesn’t mean they can stay home and avoid school forever. After spending a few weeks crying at the school door or gate, most kids make friends, grow to love their teacher, and adjust to the new routine. In the same way, allowing kids to engage in new situations and experience uncomfortable feelings along the way teaches them to self-regulate and become more confident in their abilities.
It’s not a great feeling when kids feel stressed or anxious in situations that are foreign or uncomfortable for them. However, protecting them from any stressful situations to keep them happy-go-lucky all the time isn’t the answer. When it comes to trying new things or facing their fears, kids may need some comfort and guidance, but ultimately letting them go through that difficult and uncomfortable time will build their resilience and self-confidence. And they can see over time that perhaps the scary thing they didn’t want to face isn’t so scary after all!
Emily currently lives in Orange County, California after spending four years in Illinois and half a year teaching in Florence, Italy. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from Knox College and an M.A. in Counseling from the University of San Diego and has taught English to native speakers and ESL students for over three years. When she’s not working as a School Counselor or writing, she enjoys traveling the world, playing instruments, and blogging about Millennial experiences at Long Live the Twenties.