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How to strengthen your children’s attitude to adversity


How to strengthen your children’s attitude to adversity

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happy familyI glanced at the 18-month-old girl, who was sitting on the knees of her Filipina carer. Staring at her feet, I noticed that the soles of her pretty shoes were almost brand-new and it was easy to tell that the girl didn’t do much standing on her own two feet.

With an embarrassed smile, her mother explained: “Usually, my maid and I take turns holding her. Her father and grandparents also tend to carry her everywhere. We are only too aware of the vast amount of bacteria that is all around us, and we are worried that she could fall and injure herself and become infected.” I don’t need a crystal ball to see the future for this child — not only will she find walking on her own difficult, but she will grow up to become someone who flinches in the face of challenges.

“Helicopter” parents

A five-year-old K3 student complained to his parents that another boy in his class had taken his toy. On the following morning, the furious parents rushed over to the kindergarten, grabbed a boy named Chris by the collar, and yelled: “Listen here! We will call the police if you ever bully our son again!”

How can children learn to solve their own problems if their parents are always interfering in their disputes with other kids? They know that all they have to do is let their parents take care of their troubles for them. Which means that when they grow up, they will lack the resilience to overcome all the demands that life will make on them.

“Tiger” parents

A flight-attendant friend of mine once said: “Oh dear! He’s only six and already he is on his way to study alone in Britain.” I guess his parents were really eager to push him into life’s frontline, so that he could get used to hardships and become a fearless battler when he was older, totally equipped to take care of himself.

However, some psychologists argue that such an approach to child-rearing can be counter-productive. People who have grown used to facing up to difficulties and failures alone during childhood may become the sort of person who easily backs away from potential disappointment because of their unforgettably painful experiences during their early years. Realising that they may suffer the same sort of pain again, they’ll flee from any kind of confrontation.

happy family

Positive parenting

Given that neither “helicopters” nor “tigers” can help, what can parents do to enhance their children’s ability to withstand the blows that life is bound to deal them? The key is to nurture them step-by-step, from childhood to adulthood, throughout their lives.

First, parents must learn to let go. Do not allow every little thing to play on your nerves as your kids will only follow suit emotionally. Take tumbles as an example. On most occasions, a child will not cry immediately after falling down. Instead, he or she will be quick to look for the parents’ reaction. The crying only usually starts if fear or anxiety is conveyed by the parents’ facial expressions. This is why you should learn to stay calm, and with just a reassuring look encourage the child to stand up. You will be surprised how quickly they forget all about the minor pain incurred and start playing normally again.

This same principle also applies to the way your offspring faces up to normal childhood distressing experience. For example, he or she may become upset at the thought of going to school, even bursting into tears at the prospect. As parents, you must try to find out why they are reluctant to go. This will give you the key to being able to soothe their concerns. Some children become obsessed with the idea that you are abandoning them. Just tell them that you are going off to buy some of their favourite cookies and will bring them with you when you return to take them home. Once your child has made some friends, or won the teacher’s approval, they will have no problem with going to school.

At times, when your child has incurred a minor injury, such as grazing a knee during the school picnic, for instance, you may blame yourself for having allowed them to participate in such an activity. “We are lucky it wasn’t a serious accident, what if the next time they are killed?” you may reason, concluding that the child should be prevented from going on school outings in future. But ask yourself this: as life goes on, can you keep your child close to you every minute of the day? Can you fend off all kinds of danger forever?

In the situation described above, both parents should remain self-possessed and attempt to guide their child — teaching them to reflect on and learn from such an incident. Saying, for example: “Do you remember that you stayed up very late on the night before the school picnic, even though we asked you to go to bed early so as to be fresh and ready for the outing? Perhaps if you had done as we suggested you would have been full of energy and not fallen over quite so easily.”

happy familySometimes, parents can act as counsellors to their kids,listening to their version of events and then subtly directing them to think for themselves. Why not try a role-play game at home? Let’s say that the child has suffered from a spot of bullying. Ask them: “What would Dad say to your friend if he were in your shoes?” If the reply comes back: “My Mum and Dad told me that a good boy never takes toys away from others — I’ll tell the teacher if you do it again!” then you’re on the right track.

A child accustomed to dispassionately seeking solutions in the face of provocations will gradually build up a stock of self-confidence so that when they grow up, there is a far greater chance of them becoming tough and resolute adults rather than timid and indecisive ones.

What about that six-year-old boy who was sent away to study in Britain? Do his parents believe that he will have to earn a PhD before being allowed to return home? The truth is that the best teachers of your child are the two of you — his Mum and Dad! As parents, your job is to show your kids how to deal with hardships, and how to stay calm while acting with braveness to overcome life’s challenges.


Blanche Tang

About the writer

Blanche Tang, a graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, majored in psychology. She is married and has two sons. During the 1980s, she was a very popular Hong Kong disc jockey (DJ), having won the Golden Radio DJ Award several times.

In recent years, she has been devoted to promoting parent-child education, as well as concerns for the psychological health of city people. She currently hosts a “phone-in” radio show “Mind Express Family” (訴心事家庭) on RTHK Radio 1 about family matters and concerns. Currently a columnist for the Hong Kong Economic Times, Ms Tang has also written several books, including Incredible True Stories (《不可思議的真人真事》), John & Mary, Mum, Don’t Cry (《媽媽不要哭》) and A Mother Who Smiles (《會笑的媽媽》).