The ‘Five R’s’ of raising resilient kids

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If you want your kids to excel at a subject in school, you help them with their homework or hire a tutor. If you want them to be resilient, or able to recover from disappointment and handle stress, the path is less straightforward.

In her new book “The 5 Principles of Parenting: Your Essential Guide to Raising Good Humans,” Aliza Pressman tries to make the journey to raising resilient kids a little less opaque. Pressman is a developmental psychologist and co-founder of the Mount Sinai Parenting Center.

“We try to cover the sky with a canopy to protect our kids from the hail and snow and rain and wind, instead of teaching them how to dress for the weather or when it’s okay to go outside,” Pressman says. 

Your kids are guaranteed to face hardship. Your job is not to protect them from it, but to show them how to work through it.

In her book, Pressman defines the “Five R’s” of raising resilient kids.

1. Relationships 

Strong relationships can help a child feel like they can handle adversity. Because, all kids will experience stress — and not all stress is bad. There are three types of stress Pressman addresses in her book:

  • Positive stress: This can feel similar to excitement, like butterflies before the first day of school, and is good for development.
  • Tolerable stress: This occurs when a child experiences something more severe like losing a loved one and can be managed better if they have at least one good relationship with a caretaker.
  • Toxic stress: This is a strong response to prolonged adversity, such as seeing violence or experiencing persistent economic hardship. Toxic stress occurs in the absence of protective relationships. 

“Having one caregiver with whom you feel safe, secure and connected can move the category of stress from toxic to tolerable,” Pressman says. 

2. Reflection 

Most parents don’t have 20 minutes to meditate every morning. That’s OK, Pressman says. Find moments throughout your day to do micro-meditations. Reflecting helps you take an aerial view of what you and your child need and can lead you to have more measured responses, as opposed to knee-jerk ones. 

Small meditations, even if it’s just during your daily walk to the mailbox, can help you act with intention. Kids will notice how well you self-regulate and are more likely to mirror that temperament. 

Convincing kids, especially younger ones, to meditate is a challenge. But you can create small moments of stillness that could help them learn to self-regulate, too, Pressman says. And they don’t have to feel like a chore.

“We used to do this thing with our younger kids where everybody has a Skittle and you put it in your mouth and you just have silence as you’re eating the Skittle,” she says. “It just makes you more regulated because you’ve had that moment of pause. Everything does not have to be about deep things.” 

3. Regulation 

Children “borrow our nervous system,” Pressman says. Whether you are, or are not, managing your behavior, your kids will follow your example. 

Regulation is a big factor in resilience because it teaches kids to respond to discomfort in a calm way, no matter how big their feelings are. 

You can help your children self-regulate by co-regulating with them. This means approaching them with a calm attitude, reminding them to breathe, and expressing that while their feelings are valid, their actions need to stay appropriate for the setting. 

“As long as they are not being chased by a bear, you can pause and then decide how you want to respond,” Pressman says. “And in doing so you are exercising their self-regulation muscle.” 

As long as they are not being chased by a bear, you can pause and then decide how you want to respond.

Aliza Pressman

developmental psychologist

4. Rules 

Pressman sorts rules into two categories: 

  • Boundaries: restrictions one has for oneself.
  • Limits: restrictions one has about their behaviors. 

Enforcing both can help kids feel “safe,” Pressman says. 

“If we have clear, consistent rules, and they make sense, our kids know what is expected of them and they don’t have to be on high alert for input all the time,” she says. 

And if we set boundaries with friends or family members, kids will feel emboldened to do the same.

5. Repair 

This doesn’t refer to fixing mistakes, but rather reinforcing the importance of the relationship. 

Relationships can withstand an impressive amount of strain, but only if you restore a sense of confidence and togetherness in your kids after the mishap occurs. 

You can make repairs by showing your kids empathy, love, and curiosity. For example, if they were telling you about their day at school, but you’re busy answering emails, they might feel dismissed and act out. Instead of ignoring the occurrence, you can tell them you’re sorry you got distracted, but you’d love to hear about their day now. 

The “Five R’s” are not chronological steps, Pressman says. 

For example, parents might enforce a rule and then reflect on how that rule is serving them and their child. 

The goal is not to make your child feel happy, but to strengthen the relationship between you two. If they feel cared for, they are more likely to bounce back from whatever disruptors they encounter throughout life. 

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