Raising Resilient Kids

Mark Bertin, MD, author of How Children Thrive, explains how parents can increase resilience in their children.

Interview by Allison Martin

What the most important thing a parent can do for their child.

What a huge question! It reminds me of an old Tolstoy story often used when teaching mindfulness called “the Three Questions.” The answer in that story is the most important person is the one you are with; the most important thing to is to do what is best at that moment for that person.

There is no single answer to this question, except seeing that our kids experience as clearly as possible, sticking to our values, and making choices as best as we are able at any moment. Teaching ourselves, and our children, that since perfect is not possible, we can only do our best and work to improve.

How can parents best help children with their difficulties?

How can you help your child overcoming difficulties – that is, resilience – can be broken down into three very accessible parts for parents and families.

  1. Strong, emotionally consistent relationships are one.
  2. A sense of self-efficacy and a strong ‘mindset’ is the second, valuing effort and learning from mistakes.
  3. The third is the actual skills that go into problem solving and persistence, called executive.

While these abilities develop at their own pace, we also can augment executive function through activities like open-ended, free play, creative play, and consistent limit-setting. Plus, if we learn how executive function looks at different ages, it shows us how to get a handle on practical challenges like homework and sleep routines. It is important to help kids develop a healthy relationship with technology, too.

Executive function may sound like an overly esoteric aspect of child development, but it’s really common sense and practical to know how it works.

Lastly, for those interested in exploring and putting in the effort, mindfulness supports all three parts of that resilience model: 1. Strong relationships, 2. mindset and 3. executive function. It is not required, but certainly useful.

What words of wisdom can you offer parents?

While there’s no one answer for how to raise kids, thankfully what we know what most supports kids from a research perspective is the ‘modern science of back to the basics parenting.’ Let go of all the extras that cause stress. Drop any push for perfection amplified by social media, misinformation rampant on the Internet, excessive products and classes, or any perception that we can predict and control everything. As a parent, you already know what’s best, whether it is making time for family time, limit setting around screens, or prioritizing social time, outdoor and free play.

Mark Bertin, MD, is a developmental pediatrician and author of How Children Thrive: The Practical Science of Raising Independent, Resilient, and Happy Kids.