A few months ago, I settled in to watch the Netflix drama series “Anne with an E,” based on the 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables. It was a nostalgic moment, bringing me back to a (much) earlier version of the same series where Aunt Marilla shares a quote with Anne saying, “the sun will go on rising and setting whether or not I pass geometry class.” I replayed those words in my head whenever anything difficult came my way.
What I didn’t know then—that I know now—is that a beloved childhood book was teaching me this:
The ability to bounce back.
Which is something I hope to teach my own kids.
That mistakes, setbacks, or difficulties would not overwhelm them or hold them back.
There is a ton of research and conversation happening about how to build resilience in kids. Without dumping a ton of research on you, I wanted to quickly share three game-changing questions you can use to build resilience in your kids.
1. What is happening?
First, ask: “What is happening?” When you do this, you’re giving your child an opportunity to share what they’re experiencing, which allows you to dial into it. When a child or teenager can regularly verbalize their struggles, challenges, and disappointments, they start to see setbacks as an accepted part of life that they’re not stuck in all alone.
When kids share with you what is happening in their world, you are a trusted presence in their life and this is huge. Having at least one caring adult who cares about what is happening is the key to resilience building. “Research tells us that it’s not rugged self-reliance, determination or inner strength that leads kids through adversity, but the reliable presence of at least one supportive relationship.” Keep being the caring adult they can come to.
2. What is true no matter what?
Guide them back to what is true. The American Psychological Association suggests trying “to identify areas of irrational thinking, such as a tendency to catastrophize difficulties or assume the world is out to get you, and adopt a more balanced and realistic thinking pattern.” Help to recenter them on what is true—like how much you love them, how brave and strong they are—and invite them to pause and take a deep breath. Help create a centering opportunity to remind them they are here and their body is working, that it will be okay.
This is where routines—such as dinner time, bath time, and bedtime—can be helpful too. When everything is hard and tears are plentiful, getting back into a routine helps to redirect kids to what is true no matter what.
There will be showers and chores and Tacos on Tuesday—even when life is hard, it keeps going.
3. What can I do?
A favorite phrase (it’s almost downright magical) is this: “What can I do to help?” When there are tears over unfinished book reports, a stressed-out teenager in the middle of exams, a toddler in the middle of a major meltdown, asking “what can I do to help?” is a reminder that no matter what happens, you’ve got their back. Even if all you can do is offer a hug, or help them find their school library book, offering your help is essential for building resilience. Research from the Mayo Clinic acknowledges that “being able to reach out to others for support is a key part of being resilient.” By offering to help, your kids are learning that they can reach out for support.
After you’ve asked, “What can I do?” redirect the question back to them to help your kid or teenager learn to problem-solve and see how capable they are in working towards solutions to their own problems. This helps develop the skills needed to respond to challenges. This is when you can decide together when it’s time to make a plan to handle that hard thing or consider other options that might be better in the long run.
When it comes to building resilience in your kids, these three questions can help.
But what is even more important to remember is that the common denominator is you. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University puts it this way: “The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult.” When it comes to building resilience in your kids, what matters most is you.
In this series, Never Give Up, we’re encouraging students to see that resilience is a part of their DNA. Middle schoolers may struggle in the face of challenges, as many of them will find themselves navigating difficult circumstances, rejection, or loss for the first time in this phase. That’s why encouraging them to know that God doesn’t give up on them and doesn’t want them to give up on themselves or others is so crucial to encourage them to keep going and keep growing in resilience.
“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”
Psalm 145:18, NIV
ENGAGE IN EVERYDAY MOMENTS TOGETHER
As your middle schooler starts their day, surprise them with a breakfast treat.
At a meal this week, have everyone share about how they’ve seen another family member or someone they know never give up—even when things were tough and they wanted to quit.
While on the go this week, ask: “What is something I can I help you with this week?”
Pray for your middle schooler to have wisdom to know when to keep striving for something and when to walk away.
Direct Message is a Wednesday Night Talk to help students understand the way prayer connects them to God. This can be an abstract idea for students in this phase. Because they can’t physically see or hear God, it can be easy to think they aren’t connected to God when they pray. The goal is to help them understand that God is there, God is listening, and God wants to connect with them through prayer.
Prayer connects you to God.
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.”
Philippians 4:6, NLT
ENGAGE IN EVERYDAY MOMENTS TOGETHER
As your middle schooler starts their day, encourage them with this reminder: “You are enough just the way you are.”
At a meal this week, have each person share how/when they like to talk to God.
While on the go this week, ask: “Who is someone in your life that you are concerned about and why?”
Pray: “God, thank You for listening to me when I pray. Thank You for being bigger than anything that might challenge me and loving me more than I can understand.”
I remember getting “the talk” from my stepdad when I was 12 years old. I could tell by his efforts and timing that it was thrown together at the last minute. He fumbled and stumbled his way through the 30-minute awkward conversation and in the end, we were both relieved when it was finally over.
Fast forward thirtyish years and I now find myself in the same position with my eleven-year-old son. And even though I’ve consumed as much information as possible in preparation for “the talk,” I still fear having it. The lyrics from Eminem’s song “Lose Yourself” best describe my feelings on the matter. “His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, there’s vomit on his sweater already: Mom’s spaghetti.” Yup, that was me. My fear of “the talk” not only stemmed from my own forgettable experience with my stepdad, but also because I wanted to make sure that with my son I said the right things, in the right way, at the right time.
Well, I recently had the chance to interview Dr. Jim Burns about “the talk” on a podcast I host, and I came to learn that my whole viewpoint on the matter was flawed. Here’s what I learned:
There are no right things.
Jim said that anytime you talk to your kid about sex, you may walk away feeling like there were things you didn’t say that you wish you would have said, or things you said that you wish you had said better. You won’t always get it right, or even know what to say and that’s okay.
He recommended to always finish the conversation with room to pick it back up again later by simply saying, “Can we talk about this another time?”
There is no right way.
Do I have “the talk” with my kid while driving around in the car? Or do I have “the talk” with them in their bedroom? Is this a 30-minute conversation? Or is this an all-day retreat? Is this a morning conversation before breakfast? Or is the evening more effective? Do we sit down from each other and have a formal conversation? Or do we have it while doing something informal together?
These are the questions I asked myself. And like me, you can overthink these all day long. Jim’s advice was to simply use the rhythm of your day to start conversations about sex.
There is also no right time.
The talk can take place intentionally by you scheduling time with your child and saying, “What kind of things have you heard about sex?”
Or, it can take place unintentionally when your child one day randomly asks you a question about sex or puberty because the topic came up at school, or on the bus, or at a friend’s house and you respond by saying something calmly like, “I’m so glad you asked me” (while internally freaking out).
Jim’s advice: It’s important to start the conversation while your kids are young. You don’t have to tell them everything in that moment, or in one talk. This should be many talks—over time—but start young. And that right there was my biggest take-away from my time with Jim.
“The talk” is not a one-time talk. And, it’s not a lecture. Instead, it’s a conversation. It’s a dialogue that hopefully continues through the phases.
Depending on the phase, your kid may be uncomfortable talking about sex and puberty with you, but they need to know you care enough about them and their body that you will push through the awkwardness to have the conversations.
The year 2021 brought hopes of renewal and movement past a period of pause, shut down, and uncertainty. We looked forward to moments that we easily took for granted when life was “normal.” The subtraction of certain conveniences, the change of pace in life, and many other ripple effects brought clarity to some, confusion to others, anxiety for many. One thought that has held true to me and my family is that no matter what comes our way, our faith in Jesus Christ and His certainty brings great endurance and power in the midst of what looks like a whirlwind of chaos all around. His example as a suffering servant that gave it all to bring us into a right relationship with The Father set the bar for all humanity. This sacrificial love that Christ displayed for us is what we must cling to in the days ahead. As we unpack all that has happened and continue to move forward, we need to move back to what life is truly about. Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Anyone that attends the Oakwood Services this NEW YEAR has the opportunity to pick up the full book of Timothy and Kathy Keller’s Psalms devotional book. If you would like to have a little starter help, jump on to the first fourteen days with us on the Bible App and use the book for the rest of the time.