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How to Raise a Resilient Kid

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“I quit,” my daughter screamed, stomping away from the group of neighborhood kids who were huddled around a jump rope. The parents who volunteered to turn the rope as the kids took turns look at me with compassion. They’ve been there. I follow my daughter to the corner of the garage where she’s licking her wounds.

“Mommy, I’m the worst. Everyone can do it except for me.” She’s right. She hasn’t gotten the hang of the timing required to get her feet off the ground when the rope comes around. And everyone else has.

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“Jumping rope is hard,” I say. Then, I remind her that everyone else is almost a year older than she is. I consider mentioning that they all seem freakishly athletic and unfortunately she got my genes, but I don’t. Now’s not the time for Gregor Mendel, it’s the time for me to be a good mom.

I walk the line of nurturing and tough love like it’s a tight rope — one wobble and my daughter and I will plunge downward.

But how? There’s a war waging inside me. Do I cuddle her and assure her that next year, she’ll be the double dutch champion of our alley? That’s an option of course. On the other hand, this “I quit” business is troubling. Quitting in a huff is not the way to work through frustration, and I don’t want to send her a message that it is.

I want to raise resilient kids. The problem is that I don’t know how. In this very moment, I don’t know which of my instincts will produce a child who can face and master frustration with grace and tenacity. I walk the line of nurturing and tough love like it’s a tight rope — one wobble and my daughter and I will plunge downward.

“Quitting isn’t a good way to get the practice that you need,” I say. Her scowl deepens. I want her to dig deep and find the strength to march back over to the jump rope and ask for a turn. I want her to channel her frustrations into something productive: a fighting spirit, a competitive “can do” scrappiness, the kind of feistiness that people who do Crossfit have.

She’s not budging.

“How about we make a deal? How about you agree not to quit, but only to take a break? You can come back and join us when you are ready.”

She nods, and I leave her alone. I return to the other kids and offer to hold the rope for one of the parents. I keep hoping my daughter will bound over and ask for a turn. She doesn’t. She’s found something else to do that doesn’t involve jumping rope.

It isn’t the tenacity I wanted to see. It is something else: adaptability. She obviously had reached the limit of her patience with the jump roping and moved on to kicking the soccer ball against the wall. “Look how many times I can do it without stopping,” she yells over the thud of the ball.

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I watch. Impressive. I’m grateful that I didn’t push her to return to the jump rope because she knows her limits better than I do and is able to bounce back from frustration by finding something else to do.

Maybe she is resilient after all — just not in the narrow way I define it.

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