One thing I really want to give my kids is resiliency, the ability to rebound, the ability to find hope when things are going badly, to pull themselves up by their boot straps, to be full of grit and just plain determination, scrappiness and tenacity. I know I’ve posted about this before, but I feel like we’re still at the beginning of the learning stages.
My 8 year old is a great kid but I find myself seeing his stubbornness as frustrating, rather than a great quality – like tenacity. He tends to show personality traits that began to worry me about his refusal to show perseverance, his stubbornness would result in “screw this” rather than determination. This is a kid who would start battles about homework and reading when it was “too hard”, who quit soccer because it was boring (and the other kids were better than him), who would talk about not playing baseball anymore when he had a bad game (last Spring), who would almost have real meltdowns over video game defeats, who would constantly talk about getting things and making money by trying to find the easiest route possible. When we talked about working for something, he’d shut down and stop listening.
I think I may have started to panic and have visions of a 30 year old man hiding under the covers in his room (in our basement) for weeks on end because life was hard.
So, I’ve been making some subtle changes in the past year on how I respond to life in general myself (leading by example as much as possible) showing that there’s hope and lessons in setbacks and that effort is rewarded. And I’ve also made some conscious changes in how I respond to his struggles.
I hesitate when I see him struggle. Full disclosure: It is not easy to watch your child struggle, get frustrated, want to cry, etc. It’s hard but I stand back and say nothing as much as I can. When he’s struggling with reading, getting frustrated with Legos or electronics, having trouble with anything, I stand by and try to stop myself from saying “I’ll help you with that” or even “Do you need help?”
I just wait for him to look up and ask me. Remarkably, his stubbornness has been turning from “If I’m not great at this right away, I give up” to being relentless about not giving up – well, when he’s interested enough in the topic or task.
This became really apparent on my recent ski/snowboarding adventures with my 8 year old. Drew turned 8 in February and he’s been begging me for 2 years to switch from skis to a snowboard. He wasn’t overly proficient on skis, so I was surprised about his continued interest. I bought him a snowboard and boots off ebay for his birthday and took him to a local mountain for a lesson. He was in 4 hours of lessons and was pretty self-confident about his abilities at the end of the day.
The 2nd time we went, we met up with a baseball buddy who was far more proficient on skis than Drew was on a snowboard but Drew insisted that they could ride the lift by themselves. First trip up of the morning, the other mom and I hung back and watched them get on the lift together in front of us. Drew sat down too soon as the chair was coming, it hit him in the back and pushed him forward on the ground off the front of the platform before the operator could pause the lift.
I didn’t budge or say a thing. I think the operator looked at me for a second and I mouthed “he’s okay.”
She ran to him, lifted him onto the chair and walked back to turn the lift back on. As I moved forward to get on the next chair, she looked at me and said “Wow, Mom, you didn’t freak out at all.” I just looked at her and said “he insists he can do it himself. I guaranty that next time, he won’t sit down as soon!” She laughed and wished us luck.
That’s pretty much how our day went. He insisted on moving on to the harder lift, the tougher, longer trails and he clearly wasn’t ready. We spent 30 minutes coming down one small trail with me stopping behind him every 15 feet as he tried to get himself back up, occasionally taking off his board and walking back up from the woods that he wandered into (because he had no control), and fighting back tears as he crashed awkwardly on his face many, many times. Halfway down the trail, I caught the words coming out of my mouth, I noticed my own impatience and frustration and I focused on my own response to this debacle. I stopped nagging, I stopped trying to tell him what to do, I stopped fawning over him when he fell and I knew that it hurt, I stopped issuing mom-like statements about what he was doing wrong or “I told you that you weren’t ready for that”. I just quietly followed him and waited each time. It took us so long that the boys we were skiing with had taken their skis off at the bottom of the hill and were doing snow angels on the ground.
After that run, I looked at him and asked, “do you want to go back to the smaller run and work on some things before we try this again?” He said, “nope, we’re doing this run again” and he march/waddled with his board to the same hard lift. I wanted to cry because I was beyond frustrated and tired. But the next run went 5x better. The run after that when 10x better. By 4 pm (when I was beyond exhausted), he had moved onto and completed the 3 black diamonds on the hill (these are narrower, steeper runs than the bunny slope – they are not expert-level).
He was ecstatic. He was beyond proud of himself. This stubbornness showed through when I brought him to Vermont a week or so later and he skied through driving rain and soaked clothes the first part of the day, laboring through some awful runs, insisting on trying harder things each time (when he’s not even come close to mastering the easy ones).
This may have not been a turning point or a defining moment for him but it was definitely for me. I noticed more about his character traits than I had before. I started paying attention to what he was pushing hard on.
In the past 3 months alone, I’ve noticed the following:
- Pushing him to read every day isn’t a battle since he’s reading Minecraft books (that are far harder than other books he previously refused to stick with). His teacher remarked on how his reading has skyrocketed since January.
- He will still whine about not beating a level in Super Smash Bros, but he doesn’t quit (he still wants to turn off the game when he’s being beaten by mommy in Wii bowling, however)
- Before this baseball season started, he talked about hitting the ball out of the park and stealing bases in baseball but not acknowledging that he needs to practice things. Once he got out there and saw how things were going to be harder in this division, he’s been anxious to practice more at home, even working on the mechanics of throwing and catching (something he thought he was an expert on a few weeks ago).
I’m seeing more grit, more tenacity, more scrappiness at times. Of course, it’s usually in things he wants to do, not in things we want him to do. But, I know he has it in him and hopefully this will grow with him as he develops. I know there will be many lessons and challenges in this as time goes by, but I’m hoping that the first strikeout in baseball of the season will involve less tears and more focus on the next at bat than the responses he had last year.
I love this kid beyond words and I don’t want to watch him struggle but I’m glad I’m allowing him (and myself) to work on this a little bit. We can both learn a lot from this!