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Building Resilience Through Play

Toddlerhood is the time when children develop skills that are essential for success as an older child and adult. Pediatricians typically keep tabs on development of these milestones to ensure that development is on track. These skills are not gained in a vacuum; children need the stimulation and motivation to master each one. Just like with adults, mastery is only built through repeated attempts, frequent failures and frustrations, and then still more attempts. This resilience, this fall-down-get-right-back-up-again determination is, I argue, the most important aspect of character that we can impress upon our children. 

The most successful people, in any field, are those with the grit necessary to work through challenges and disappointments along the way. Having brains helps, of course, but even the smartest, most gifted, most creative people face difficulties. Only those who are not fazed or deterred will be able to succeed. 

We do not have to wait for schoolwork to start teaching our kids about resilience. Childhood play, starting from the first attempts to stack blocks, can be a lesson in determination and perseverance if you let it. When our kids get a bit older, say, three or four years old, skills like riding a scooter or balance bicycle (that takes a bit more skill to ride than one with training wheels) can provide a similar lesson. However, unlike simply rebuilding the fallen block tower, a setback in this case often involves tears and skinned knees. It is in these situations though, that we have the best opportunity to help our children learn to push through to success. 

If our children can pick themselves up, brush themselves off, try again….and get it right…they will be learning that “failure” is temporary and success is not out of reach. The converse is also true: if we always allow our kids to give up after they struggle, they might learn the lesson that this is something that they “can’t do” or that they aren’t “strong enough, smart enough, brave enough…” 

Children also learn by observation. It’s equally important that children can observe parents persevering through challenges in their lives as well. Bonus points for parents who learn a new skill or hobby with their children. When parents and children struggle (and then succeed!) together, everyone wins. 

Be well and thrive.

-Dr. Tiff


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