Does resiliency and tenacity run in families? How does one cultivate this? What does a parent do when it is not apparent?
During a warm evening last month, I decided to take my 11-year old daughter roller skating on a whim. The evening quickly became frustrating for both of us as she was not able to get up after falling. She simply refused to skate saying that she felt stupid and that she was not a good skater. As I skated around the rink under the disco lights singing…and falling, I couldn’t help but wonder why she couldn’t do the same thing. What was happening in her mind that would not allow her to get up? to try? to admit that she had to practice and then go practice? Why wasn’t she acting as a resilient and tenacious child?
What makes some children push through challenging situations and others become paralyzed by it? How did this happen to my child?
As I was skating around the rink, trying to show my daughter how much fun I was having and coaxing her to skate with me, holding onto the wall, with another child, anything to get her out on the floor, I thought of the notion of resiliency, fear, and learning.
I was reminded when my daughter was 7 and she began to complain that she didn’t enjoy reading and “wasn’t good at it”. This confession hurt me to the core as a parent and teacher. I shook my head in disbelief thinking: ‘You mean you don’t want to read’. Of course you know how to read. I’ve been reading to and with you since before you were born. Did she mean that she did not want to try more complicated texts? I was flabbergasted and scared that my child was not resilient in the face of what proved difficult or tenacious enough to conquer the difficulty, or not enough of a learner to do either.
I decided to start a book club with 3 friends and their daughters, in order to provide a social purpose for reading since my daughter was not reading for her own enjoyment. I used her strengths as a social child to fit reading in. This idea paid off and four years later we are still reading amazing books and having amazingly complex conversations as a group. At 11, she has just begun to read books independently and take pride in reading faster and more books than me.
Still, my daughter defaults more often than not to pleas of, “I can’t” and “it’s too hard” and “ I just don’t want to, Mom”. This disposition was extremely distressing to me as a teacher who prides herself with instilling in students a sense of being a learner (of loving the learning process). It was if my own child was afraid to embrace a learner-stance. How could this happen? It was as if it learning and fear of failure was a weakness not to be exposed rather than an opportunity to learn. Sadly, as a parent, I saw her peers advance in school and on the soccer field even though my daughter had comparable skills and experiences (at least in the beginning). As she continued to shelter her skills and not ‘take on’ anything challenging, she slipped further behind and then couldn’t adequately compete.
Our relocation to a different state seemed to provide her with a way to reinvent herself. She agreed to go to honors classes (something that she refused to do in our old town). However she still did not display the level of resiliency and tenacity that I would like to see as both a parent as an educator. She does enough to get by in school, nothing more. I’ve been bothered by her lack of with-it-ness and often wonder how much I can push her as a parent and as a teacher.
To my surprise, at 11 years and 6 months of age, she started to complete homework with her friend. They Skype and sometimes, they even ask me to help them with their math homework among giggles. Sensing an opening, I decided to go for broke and force Danielle to work at something that she cares about. Singing. I forced her to go to choir practice. During the first practice, I had to threaten and drag her down the aisle (while people watched)…that is not a good sight in a church. She pouted and folded her arms the whole time and I couldn’t help but think that everyone was thinking, “Who is this grumpy kid and who in the world is her mother?” I felt so uncomfortable that wanted to take her home and say, “you win”…but I didn’t. I stuck with it.
The second practice wasn’t much better. She was stiff and looked miserable in the choir loft and I couldn’t help but think- ‘she won. I can’t force her to try’… but I stuck with it and so did she. I sent her the songs over email and found that she was practicing in her room over and over again. She was working through something challenging.
As if by osmosis, she came home from school and said that she needed to start preparing for soccer tryouts. She put on her shorts and started exercising. She asked me to take her out running in the park to help her build her stamina. (This is progress in that she actually asked me to help her with something.)
She seems to be trying and working through experiences which are difficult and to which she has a goal. This is a very different disposition that what I have experienced with her over the past several years.
Perhaps she needed time and something to really care about.
Perhaps she needed a mother who would not give up on her.
Perhaps she needed a teacher who would give her space to grow.
Perhaps she was a learner all along but had a different timeline than what I wanted as a parent.