My two children are aged 5 and 6. I am incredibly proud of the little people they are becoming. They are kind and thoughtful. They are determined and smart. They are strong. They are resilient. And they can thrive in whatever situation and environment we throw at them - and we’ve thrown more than a few challenges their way. Everything from hiking in the heights of the Himalayas, to putting them in a canoe for 8 hours a day on an all adult trip, to in the case of my son, living in 4 different houses, 3 different countries, and attending 4 different schools in his 6 years of life.
I started to think about what it that have made them the type of kids I am truly proud of. These are my thoughts on how to build kind, strong and resilient kids.
Goals - Ever since I can remember, I have been one to set goals. I am competitive, but there is no one I have higher expectations of than myself. I want my children to know that if they set a goal, they can achieve it. It may be on their first try, or it may be on their hundredth. In fact, they may never reach it, but they can keep striving, and in the attempt, learn many lessons about who they are and what they are capable of. We have two small stuffed animals in our house. One for each of my children. We call them the “I can do anything dragons”. They represent a small hike, up a small mountain, where a storm blew in, it was raining sideways, and we could hardly see 2 feet in front of us. While we made the decision to turn around at what we thought was the summit before we crossed the line between adventure and insanity, our children were remarkably proud of what they had achieved. They had climbed a mountain. They had tackled the weather (and marched proudly by a group of teenage army cadets huddling in the cold), and they had done it with hardly a whine. We celebrated with buying them a small stuffed animal of a Welsh Dragon, which we subsequently named the “I can do anything dragon”. Whenever they are sad, or struggling. Whenever they feel that math is too difficult, or they can’t spell a word, I ask them to remember their dragon and their adventure and the fact that they had climbed a mountain in weather that would have had most adults defeated. They take a deep breath. Smile at the memory. And carry on.
Trust - One thing I’ve learned as a parent, is that if you are willing to let your kids push their boundaries, and not in a “I don’t want to go to bed kind of way” they’ll respect them. For almost two years, since he was four years old, my son and I have played a game when we are walking where we take different paths, and come together after seconds apart. This started on a walk to school, where he would go one way around a tree, and I another. As he got older, pushing these boundaries extended to going around a small building, to now, taking a short path through the woods where I remain about 50m away, but covered by trees. In each case I know exactly where he is, but through playing this game, I am demonstrating trust in my son’s ability to meet me on the other side. I know, without a doubt, he would never stray. Nor, would he ever break a rule such as “don’t cross the road”. By providing him these glimpses of independence that push his comfort as a child, and mine as a parent, we are able to push our boundaries, expand our trust, and take confident steps towards him becoming the confident young man he is on his way of becoming.
No Limits- In January of 2016, we took a short flight from India, and found ourselves on a dream trip with the kids - a few days of hiking around the Annapurna mountain range in Nepal. F was not yet 3. We set relatively modest limits - about 10 km of hiking a day, and stayed at more than basic lodges. We had prepared to carry the kids the majority of the way, and bribe them for every other step they took. As soon as we started, they enthusiastically took to the trails, running, climbing and exploring. Sure we carried them a bit, but they walked more than we could have imagined. Our expectations had been set remarkably low, and if we’d remained restricted by them, we would have never realized what our almost 3 and 4.5 year old mini adventurers were capable of.
In another example, we have one meal time rule: Try everything. It may be just one bite, and if they don’t like it, fine, but they must explore and try. Not long ago, we finished our meal at a lovely Lebanese restaurant, and the waiter brought out baklava. Our children didn’t want anything to do with it, asking for their classic, “Vanilla Ice cream”. They tried a nibble, and were luke warm. “Not bad, but we still would like some ice cream, please”. Two weeks went by, and we returned to the restaurant. The waiter brought out the bill with the baklava. Our children's’ eyes lit up, as they started gushing about how much they loved the stuff, and reaching hungrily for the little pieces to the disappointment of my husband who, for the first time, wouldn’t be getting the full selection to himself. It struck me how something as simple as encouraging our children to just try something which they had no interest in, has now expanded to a new favourite that would closely rival vanilla ice cream. What if every time we had the opportunity to step out of our comfort zone, we decided to remain within? What if everytime we had the opportunity to take that leap of faith, try something new, and take the risk that we might not like it, but we might just, and it turns into something that we love, and it enriches us, we take it? What is there to lose? A mouthful of honey and nuts?
So what does this have to do with strength and resilience? Goal setting, trust, and not succumbing to expectations contribute to one's ability to achieve and overcome, and nowhere is this more evident than with our kids. Sure - we all have setbacks. Many of us devastatingly so. But, by helping your kids set goals of where they want to go, encouraging them to trust themselves and their instincts, and not putting limits on what they are capable of, we can help them build the confidence they need to take steps towards their dreams, and get back on track when life takes the twists and turns it inevitably does for all of us.
N is a travel and adventure loving mom to two mini-adventurers M & F aged 5 and almost 7. As a Canadian ex-pat who has lived both in Delhi, India and London, England, she is determined to make the most of the opportunities presented to her and her family to explore the people, places and food that surrounds her one bite, flight, or step at a time.