Dr. Michele Borba, author of Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine is an educational psychologist, a former teacher and mother. We spoke with her about her newest book and her resilience research on teenagers.
According to Borba, all parents want their children to succeed. We want them to thrive. After all, a teen who is thriving is also a teen who is a peak performer.
But do we hinder their success by doing too much for them? Since all human beings will face adversity, it’s our job to prepare our teenagers for those moments. “Adversity will be part of their lives forever,” Dr. Borba explains. so we need to help teens build a resilient mindset, which in turn makes them thrivers.
7 Essential Character Traits for Developing a Resilient Mindset
Children need a clear understanding of who they are. We can help them identify their strengths and their weaknesses. One of the most important gifts we can give our teenagers is a hobby that they love. When difficult times arise, our teenagers can use that hobby to help them decompress. Help your teenager find that special activity.
Social competence correlates with solid mental health and resilience. How do we help build empathy? We know that literary fiction can activate and boost empathy. Contributing to society increases empathy. Finally, ask you teenagers about their feelings.
As we’ve said, our teenagers need to learn how to manage stress. The important first step is to identify each child’s stress signs. Then they can try different techniques—like yoga, mindful breathing, meditation—to identify which practices calm them down. Once they know their signs of stress and their relaxation technique, your teenager will have a lifelong tool to decompress when encountering hardship.
When altruistic people were asked why they behave with integrity, they responded that it was how they were raised. Their parents modeled kindness and respect. You can foster this in your children by providing them opportunities to do good.
Curiosity leads to problem solvers. Thrivers don’t give up. They figure out a way around obstacles. Help your teenager stay curious with this one trick: Never do for your child what your child can do for themselves. Encourage children to think deeply.
Perseverance is a matter of how hard you try, your effort, not your IQ or GPA. If a child is struggling, demonstrate how to overcome fear by breaking a problem down into manageable components. Maintain expectation levels that meet the child at their current level. The goal is to stretch the child, not snap him. You’re building your child’s confidence so that next time they will persevere.
A resilient parent raises a resilient kid. Your optimistic, (or pessimistic) approach spills over to your kid. If pessimism becomes permanent, or pervasive, it robs our kids of thriving potential. Help your kids see that there’s hope. Make a habit of talking about positive things with your children.
Dr. Borba’s Favorite Resilience Building Activity
The Two Kind Rule: Do at least two kinds things for somebody each day. Brainstorm with your teenagers what two things they can do to make someone smile. At the end of the day, discuss their success. Over time they will internalize this behavior. Being kind will become a habit.
The Big Takeaway
Thrivers are made not born. Resilience is not locked into IQ or temperament. Research shows that children with a resilient mindset have two things:
- A caring champion in their life (parent, teacher or other adult)
- Protective factors such as the Seven Essential Character Traits
With these two factors children are able to navigate around and through life’s inevitable hardships. You can equip your children by teaching and modeling the above skills.