Here’s the No. 1 skill for raising highly resilient kids, says parenting expert and neuropsychologist

FAN Editor

I’ve spent two decades researching the neuroscience of resilience. While traveling the world and sharing my research, parents would often come up to me and ask, “How can I use your findings to raise resilient kids?”

As a mother of young children, I don’t have parenting all figured out. But I’ve found that there’s one skill in particular that has boosted my kids’ confidence and resilience: how to “worry well.”

Our role as parents is not to remove worry from our children’s lives, but to give them the tools to manage that anxiety and fear. Here’s how to do that, especially if they have a tendency to panic:

1. Set aside time to worry, then release. 

Instead of telling children not to worry, invite them to set aside time for “worry sessions.”

Set a timer for five minutes and ask your child to worry about every aspect of their concern. They can even write down all their anxieties. Then, once the period is over, ask them to release the worries and no longer think about them.

If your child starts to worry again, remind them that they’ve already had their worry time. These sessions can occur daily, if needed.

2. Create a worry box or jar. 

This is where your children can keep their worries. Have your child decorate it, then write down each anxiety on a piece of paper and store them in the container. Tell them that once it is in the box, there is no need to think about it anymore.

3. Have them imagine the worst case scenario.

When your child frets, ask them, “What’s the worst that can happen?” This helps them feel more secure because they realize that the worst imagined outcome is not as bad as they thought.

It also gives them perspective. If they’re worried they won’t pass a test, tell them that if that happens, they can ask the teacher for help or get a tutor.

Reminding our kids that they are capable of handling even the worst-case scenario helps them see that most problems can be managed.

4. Have them imagine the best case scenario.

Children tend to only imagine the worst possible outcomes, so encourage them to focus on positive outcomes instead.

When we took a hot air balloon trip in Albuquerque, my son Samson, who has always been an anxious kid, asked me a million questions on the way over about what would happen if the balloon punctured or ran out of air. I told him to imagine soaring above the ground with the wind in his hair.

This approach teaches children to have a more balanced thought process.

5. Point out and reinforce positive outcomes.

During that hot air balloon ride, we got up in the air without an issue. But when it was time to land, there was no breeze at all. We were just hanging there, over highways and houses, and our fuel was running low.

As the pilot discussed his new plan for landing, Samson turned to me and said, “Is it time to panic?”

I replied with a smile: “No. It’s not time to panic. But if there’s real reason to panic, you’ll be the first to know.” 

Afterwards, I reinforced for Samson what had gone right: We landed safely and got to see an amazing view. I told him that even though he was anxious, in the end it turned out to be a great experience.

And now, he always has something to remember that can help him feel more confident and resilient in the future. 

Taryn Marie Stejskal is the founder of the Resilience Leadership Institute and author of “The 5 Practices of Highly Resilient People: Why Some Flourish When Others Fold.” She served as Head of Executive Leadership Development & Talent Strategy at Nike and Head of Global Leadership Development at Cigna. With master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Maryland, she completed pre- and postdoctoral fellowships in neuropsychology at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. Follow Taryn on Twitter and Instagram.

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