Building Resiliency

Dear Claudia,

I have a daughter who won’t stick with anything. She gets excited about things at first, but then, as soon as she is at all discouraged, she drops out. We usually let her drop out. I think it is affecting her in school, because she does get discouraged easily and stop trying. A few times I have tried to get her to stick with something, but she makes such a scene, that we just end up getting into a terrible fight over it. She gets both my husband and me into these power struggles, and she just won’t budge from wanting to quit – she’s very obstinate. Is there any way that I could talk to her so that she could begin to cooperate, try a little harder, stick with something, and learn not to get so easily discouraged?

Concerned Mom

Dear Concerned Mom,

Your daughter is a smart girl. She is sensitive and has found a way to spare herself the agony of defeat. If she is ten and under, she doesn’t understand that she is not giving herself a chance at achievement, or to feel OK with failure – both important lessons. Provided she is not yet a teen, it would be good if you could help her develop more resiliency to face some challenges, and yes, you can do it. 

The only problem, as you note, is that when you try to help her, she makes such a scene. When children don’t cooperate, parents often, understandably, get frustrated. One kid I work with says her mother turns into “The Hulk”. Hulk-like parents can end up saying things out of extreme frustration like “you are never going to amount to anything at this rate – YOU HAVE TO STICK WITH SOMETIHNG!” The child then feels not only misunderstood, but also worthless.

So, if your daughter is going to turn either you or your partner into “The Hulk” it might be better to just let it go. Otherwise, she won’t become more resilient – she’ll just develop even greater dread when facing challenges, whether she ultimately succeeds or not. 

Imagine, instead, that insisting that your daughter stick with something is like accompanying her through a terrible, grueling and painful ordeal – like an operation. She is certainly not going to cooperate. Right now, she needs you to hold her hand and comfort her. She needs to wail and storm; it’s good for her. Let her know that even though you have to help her build resiliency, you understand. Tell her gently: “I know. It’s hard. It’s gonna be hard, my angel.” 

Signup for musings and news sent to your inbox

"*" indicates required fields

I am interested in:
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.