RAISING RESILIENT CHILDREN: It’s not what you think!

Some parents think that raising their children to be resilient means trying to instill confidence in their children.

And they think that the way to do THAT is to say, “Good job. Buddy!” after everything their child does.

Other parents, often Dads (sorry, Dads) think that raising resilient children means telling your children to “shake it off” when they fall down or miss a goal in a soccer game.

They often believe that it is better if their children don’t cry or focus on their disappointments and hurts.

But let’s look at what a researcher in the field has to say.

Dr. Lucy Hones studied resilience at the University of Pennsylvania and then at The University of Christ Church in New Zealand.

What she found is that resilient people are different from others in three main ways.

And, according to me, we can help our children to become more resilient by adopting some of the strategies that are used by resilient people.

First, Dr. Hones says, resilient people know that suffering is part of life — which helps them to accept negative events when they happen without feeling victimized. When it comes to children, it is important for parents neither to protect them from every scrape or disappointment nor discourage their children from feeling their feelings about getting hurt or disappointed.

What parents can do instead, is to help children to understand that difficult things happen in life, they won’t always succeed, and they will sometimes fall down and get hurt. And when they are disappointed or hurt, it is painful.

And parents can also help children to know that they can withstand disappointment and move on afterwards.

Recently, I talked to a psychologist who works at the counseling center of a local college. He said that he sees college freshmen ALL the time who have NEVER received less than an A and don’t know how to handle it when they receive a B or a C at college. And he said that he sees loads of freshmen who do not seem to know how to tolerate and manage disappointment or failure on any level. For example, he said when they are rejected from the fraternity or sorority of their choice, or when they suffer a romantic disappointment, they break down, they cry and they feel like they just can’t handle it.

These college kids have clearly been protected from failure their entire lives. And it has not helped them.

Second, Dr. Hones says, resilient people acknowledge what they cannot control and focus on what they can. So again, when it comes to children, we can help them to understand that there are certain things they must do in life whether they like it or not, and rather than trying to rescue them from these things or do these things for them, we can help them to understand that some things are hard and no fun but they need to try their best to get through them.

For example, I had a parent who came to me because her son never finished his projects for school on time. When I asked her how she had handled this in the past, she said that she hated doing this, but she felt that she had to help him because he was so anxious about getting the projects done by the due date that he would get himself all upset and stay up late into the night being unproductive. As a result, she often stayed up late with him on the night before it was due to get it done.

This mother, like so many parents, was not helping her son to do the thing he did not like to do, she was not helping him to accept that if he wanted to finish something on time he had to start before the last day. Instead, she was rescuing him. And I don’t think that this strategy was helping the boy toward reliance. I suggested that she hire a nice high school student to start the next project with the boy a couple of weeks ahead of time and come by a few times a week to work on the project with him. It is often hard for parents to get a child to do something differently, but often an older teen or a tutor CAN. This boy accepted this strategy and gradually learned how to start doing his projects ahead of time.

Third, Dr. Hones found that resilient people acknowledge the negative but focus on the positive.

She gave the example of someone coming out of their house and seeing a tiger on a hillside several thousand yards away on one side and a nice surprise on the front walkway on the other side. She said that it is of course important for that person to note that the tiger is there and to take adequate precautions to protect themself from it and THEN to go and get the nice surprise.

If, instead, she said, the person focuses on the fact that there is a tiger in the vicinity and as a result, stays anxious all day and night, they will never get to see what the surprise is and enjoy it.

So, how can we help children to focus on the positive?

The worst way is to tell them to do this. This will be meaningless to them.

The best way is through modeling. If we are anxious all the time, focusing on all the bad news and terrible events in the world, our children will undoubtedly learn from us that the world is a dangerous place, and they too will feel anxious.

Moreover, if we watch the news 24/7 and check our phones constantly, we will not be available to our children to comfort them and to provide them with an island of security and reassurance — which all children need.

If, on the other hand, we can acknowledge the terrible events going on in the world and in our lives, learn what we have to do to protect ourselves and take care of ourselves, limit our news and disaster “diet”, and then celebrate the good in our lives, our children will learn that there is a balance. Life has difficulties we must be knowledgeable about and deal with and it also has relaxed times and joyous events we can celebrate.

We do not have to deny the negative but nor should we focus on it full time — and we must help our children to do the same.

So, try these strategies with your children and see if they help them toward greater resilience.

And for more from Dr. Hones on resilience, see her TED talk:

What Your Child NEEDS Versus What Your Child WANTS!!

Dr. Corinne Masur

How do you know whether your child NEEDs or WANTs?

Recently, a mother in our parenting group asked a really good question:

Does her 19 month old need to be nursed several times during the night or is this something she WANTS but does not NEED?

During the same discussion, another mother asked when a baby’s need for immediate attention turns into more of a want? She knew that newborns need you to feed and comfort them immediately after they start crying — but when can you let them wait a while?

This discussion brought up a topic which I have been wanting to write about for a long time.

It is one of the things that is most confusing to parents — especially first time parents.

Opinion varies as to what constitutes a need versus a want.

But let’s start with the most concrete example: hunger.

Most experts say that by the time an infant has reached 13–15 pounds, they can safely sleep through the night without requiring a feeding. This is particularly true for formula fed babies and babies who have started on some solid food in addition to breastfeeding.

The age at which most experts suggest that your baby can manage to sleep through the night without undue hunger is between 4 and 8 months.

But what about the mother in our group who had a 19 month old? She felt unsure as to whether her baby was actually hungry several times each night or whether her baby was crying in order to receive comfort from her through breastfeeding at these times.

And this is exactly what all parents have to figure out. Does your baby or toddler or child wake up and then cry in the night because they are hungry? Because they are ill? In pain? Or because they want some comfort and companionship? And what should you do if it’s the latter?

Years ago we had a Mom in the group who used to ask the same question about her 7 year old — but during the day. Did he NEED her when he begged for her attention? Should she feel guilty when she set limits with him?

It is important for parents to dedicate some time to think about this question when they are having trouble sorting it out. Talking to a spouse, a friend who has had several children, an older relative or a professional is often necessary.

Guilt is one of the most likely culprits when a parent finds him or herself torn over whether and when to give to a child.

After the newborn phase (3–4 months) an infant CAN wait a little while to be fed or picked up or changed. Not an hour — but 10 minutes?


You CAN go to the bathroom, make a cup of coffee, take a brief phone call.

And at this age you CAN leave an infant on his or her back to play on a quilt or to do tummy time — and even if they fuss a bit, you can let them prolong their ability to play or hold up their head for just a few minutes longer than feels comfortable for them.

As your baby becomes a toddler and then a child, you will want to let them learn how to tolerate small amounts of frustration or delay. That way they will be able to manage their own boredom and hunger and unfulfilled desires as they grow up.

By this I mean all the normal things: if your child is hungry and wants a snack and it is a half hour before dinner, they can wait. If they cry, and you know they had a good lunch and a snack later on, you help them to understand that something good is coming and it will just be a little while longer and that they CAN wait. No guilt necessary. If they didn’t eat lunch and had no snack, well maybe you can set them up with a sliced apple or orange or carrot sticks…..but not the cookies or chips they were asking for.

And even later, at 7 or 9 or 15 — if your child wants your attention — and you know they are not hurt or ill or in the midst of a serious upset, again, you can ask them to wait. In fact, you can tell them that they have to wait if you are in the middle of something — but then be sure to get back to them when you are free and can give some time to them.

Guilt often leads to a parent thinking they are depriving their child of what they NEED. And when a parent feels guilty (maybe because they work full time and are away from the child all day or maybe for another reason known or unknown by the parent) it often leads the the parent feeling confused — AND sending confusing messages to the child — such as “I can’t play now….OK, I’ll play now but just for 5 minutes” etc. — you know the drill.

Giving in when your baby or child asks more of you than you feel you can give (like numerous night time feeding when they are over 8 months old or asking to play while you are making dinner or working or on the phone) can lead to a parent feeling resentful. And this resentment is bound to be communicated to your child in one way or another.

Another culprit that can lead to a parent feeling confused by what their child needs versus what they want is anxiety. It turns out that the toddler who was still asking for night time feedings at 19 months had had some serious medical issues at birth which led to trouble with feeding. With this kind of history, no wonder her mother was unsure when to stop night time nursing! She had been worried for her child’s well being for so long during her early week and months!

Try to sort out what your baby or child REALLY needs from what it is that they want and then set some limits accordingly.

So, what does this mean for the 19 month old I mentioned earlier? Well, that will be up to her parents. Perhaps they will decide that the situation is Ok as it is for now and they will allow the night time feeding to continue for a little while longer given her early struggles with feeding. Or maybe they will decide on some gradual night time weaning. Her medical issues are in the past and it is likely that her need at night at 19 months old is not for nutrition – but is more of a WANT for some Mommy-time. We might conjecture that what she needs at this point is help learning how to sleep through the night with confidence AND how to entertain herself or soothe herself back to sleep when she wakes up in the middle of the night.

And for the 7 year old, sorting out his wants from his needs might mean saying no and meaning it when he asks his mom to play while she is making dinner or having her coffee or when she is on the phone — because really, he wants her attention at these times but is not in dire need of her. On the other hand, children and teens of all ages DO have a need for nurturance and support – so his mother will need to devote some time to being with him during other parts of her day when she CAN give him her undivided attention.

Figuring out what your child wants versus what your child needs can make a huge difference in knowing what to do as a parent! Think about it!

Translating Psychoanalytic Terms into Everyday Life:

Containment — it’s not about what to do when your toddler is running around too much.

When we talk about “containment” in the psychoanalytic sense, we are talking about the parent’s ability to contain the infant’s anxiety and anger.

Wilfred Bion, a brilliant British psychoanalyst, talked about the mother’s ability to stay relatively calm in the face of her baby’s upset. He said that this is the way that the baby eventually learns how to tolerate his or her own upset.

He explained that the mother grasps the importance of, and takes into herself, some of the baby’s earliest and most primitive anxieties…she thinks about such things in her own way without being caught up in them or overwhelmed by them herself. Babies with mothers who can take the panic out of their anxieties eventually take into themselves some version of a mother who can manage without being knocked off balance… internalizing the mother’s capacity to tolerate and manage anxiety.

The baby achieves a sense of psychological holding by having a mother who can be in a state of openness to the baby’s state of mind. The baby can communicate primitive anxiety to the mother, who in an intuitive way, drawing on her own inner resources, including her own experience of having been mothered, receives these feelings. If the mother can manage the infant’s primitive fears and impulses, then she can communicate this back to the baby in her own language — her tone of her voice, the manner of holding, the look in her eyes, and the baby has the experience of RELIEF.

Someone can manage the things that he cannot! Gradually, after many experiences like this, the baby can learn to tolerate primitive states of mind and difficult feelings.

Of course, this can be done by EITHER a father OR a mother.

When a parent becomes anxious or angry in response to a baby’s fussiness or discomfort or distress, the baby receives the communication that these feelings simply cannot be tolerated — by ANYONE.

However, when a parent meets the baby or the toddler’s anger or anxiety with relative calm, the baby or toddler learns that these feelings CAN be tolerated AND survived.

This is important for the rest of the baby’s development — through childhood and into adulthood.

ALL feelings, no matter how intense, CAN be survived. AND they do not need to be acted on. They can be experienced and they can be metabolized.

If a parent can tolerate the strong feelings that their baby or toddler has — and this can be VERY hard at times — they show the baby or toddler that these feelings are just feelings and they can be lived through.

A parent who can soothe an infant who is distressed and who can be with a toddler even during a tantrum without melting down themselves, proves to the baby and toddler that feelings are not toxic.

Of course, parents, there will be days when you are LESS able to do this than others. On these days there might just be one too many tantrums and then you may have had it!

This happens.

But containment is about what you are able to do most of the time.

The ability to tolerate — and contain — your baby or toddler’s discomfort or anger or fear is a valuable part of being a parent — and one worth reflecting on.

Translating Psychoanalytic Terms into Everyday Life:

Aggression in Our Children — It’s Not What You Think!

Most people think of aggression as a bad thing.

Especially when it comes to our children.

“He’s too aggressive” is something you do NOT want to hear from your child’s teacher!

However, it is important to consider other meanings of this word.

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, talked about people having two drives: the aggressive and the libidinal — or loving. He believed that these two drives motivated all human behavior.

Modern day psychoanalysts do not necessarily think this way anymore — but we do still think about aggression — and not necessarily in the way that you think.

Henri Parens, a wonderful child psychoanalyst, moved the field forward by MILES by talking about the aggressive drive as having more than one component.

He talked about the HOSTILE aggressive drive which is the one we normally think about.

And then he talked about the NON-HOSTILE, NON-DESTRUCTIVE aggressive drive. This is the one that provides motivation in life. It is the “oomph” that moves kids forward to learn, to be creative, to get up and DO! It is the thing that drives curiosity and exploration.

All kids need SOME aggression –

They need the first kind in order to be able to protect themselves and to stand up for themselves.

This is the kind of aggression that is built into our DNA in order to ensure that we survive as a species — as well as in our individual lives. Being able to fight back is not a bad thing! It is only when this form of aggression is expressed in excess or in situations that do not warrant it, that it becomes problematic.

And children need the second kind of aggression — the non-hostile, non-destructive type, to learn new things, to move forward in life, to achieve, to do MORE.

The non-hostile, non-destructive type of aggression is so important to kids to provide the motivation to do what they need and want to do. And some children have more of this than others. These are the children that are more active, more curious, more energetic and seem to want to just do MORE.

It sometimes feels like a burden to a parent to have a child like this —

BUT if you can help your child to channel this energy, to use it for productive purposes, if you can support their energy level by engaging in productive activities with them and encouraging them to engage in some on their own, if you can provide them with the materials and activities they need — whether legos or art supplies or science kits or music lessons or teams to play on or model airplanes to build, if you can set sufficient limits to help them to contain their energy and to channel it, you may find that you have a future CEO or artist on your hands!

For more on this subject, see Henri Parens’ book,

Aggression in Our Children

5 Great Things That You’ll Gain As a Parent From Intermittent Phone Fasting

Everyone is doing intermittent fasting as a diet/get healthy plan these days.

You know, the thing where you only eat between about noon and 8PM?

Well, how about this: intermittent phone fasting!?

This is where you only use your phone for a few hours at a time throughout the day and thereby avoid insulting your friends and family and you stop getting in so much trouble with your boss.

It’s an idea whose time has come.

Believe me!

We all know that it’s no good for babies to have you on your phone while you’re nursing.

We ALSO all know it’s no good for kids to see you on your phone when they need you to be looking at them and telling them how great it is that they can run/jump/draw/pull down the curtains so well.

AND we all know it’s no good for your relationship when you’re supposed to be cuddling but actually you’re looking at your phone.

I could go on.

But you get the idea.

How about letting yourself gorge on your phone for a few hours a few times a day? You decide when the best times of day for you are. And the rest of the time, you put it away!

Turn it off.

Don’t get alerts, dings, twangs or alarms.

Just turn it off!

I guarantee you of the following:

  1. You will feel less distracted and harried.
  2. Your children will feel better and more nurtured.
  3. Your partner and/or friends will like you better.
  4. You will actually get a few things done.
  5. You will feel proud of yourself for wasting less time.

Good luck! And if you get hungry, just eat a little popcorn.

3 Principles Which Will Help You To Nudge Your Children into Doing What you Want –

Or — the gentle art of Choice Architecture

Every day we make thousands of decisions, most of them unconsciously. What we decide often depends on the way in which the choice is framed and the context in which a choice is made. Economists have been concerned with how people make decisions and behavioral economists specifically, among them Nobel Laureate Richard Thaler, were the first to incorporate insights from psychology into their work.

Thaler has developed a whole science revolving around how people make choices.

In its highest application, this science is used to help people to make the choices that are best for them. This is called “Choice Architecture” and Thaler writes about this in his books “Nudge” and “Nudge, the Final Edition”.

Here we are going to apply these ideas to parenting — and for transparency’s sake, I will say that all the ideas in this post are stolen from this brilliant man!!!!

Principle #1

Think about what words you choose when you speak with your child. This can drastically alter what choice your child makes!

For example, when you want your child to go to bed, you say, “Are you ready for bed?”

And your child says……….”No”.

Of course. What do you expect them to say?

Thaler would say that you have constructed the question in the wrong way.

If you want your child to go to bed, you need to say, “OK, time for bed! Do you want to jump into your bed like a frog or slither into bed like a snake?”

Or something like that.

You can give your child a choice. You can give him or her SOME power and agency. But you DO NOT give them a choice about WHETHER or not they go to bed.

Principle #2

To get your child to do what you want them to do, make the choice simple for them.

For example, let’s say your child is five and you want them to get dressed in the morning on their own. And let’s say your child has put up some resistance to doing this.

Ask yourself why.


Figure out what’s making it hard for them to get dressed on their own.

Let’s say you go into their room and realize that their drawers are a mess, full of clothes that are too small or for the wrong season.

Or let’s say you think about it and realize you gave your child six choices about what they COULD wear. You know the old, “do you want to wear a dress or leggings or maybe tights and a skirt or here’s a nice pair of jeans you liked last month.”


In the first case, your child might be unable to get dressed because he or she finds it so frustrating to look through the drawers and find something.

If you need to, help clean and organize the drawers. Put things that are appropriate for the season in the drawer, get rid of all the old stuff and put pants and shirts and socks and underwear in different places so they are easy to find.

And, if you have to go a step further, lay out two outfits — but no more.

Make it easy for your child to do what you WANT them to do.

Look for whatever obstacles are getting in the way of their doing what you want and REMOVE THE OBSTACLES!

Principle #3

If you want to reduce certain aspects of your child’s behaviors, make those behaviors you don’t like harder for them to do.

Let’s say your child likes to run around at night after bath and before bed. He gets himself all excited and then it’s hard to get to bed and the whole process takes too long. You’re exhausted by then anyway and this makes it worse.

Try something new. Pick your child up in his towel (let’s say he’s five or younger) and say something loving and distracting (“oh, you’re so snuggly after a bath”) as you walk to his room. Once there, shut the door(s) without saying anything and then help him get the pajamas on. If you need to, make up a story — this is our bear den — let’s be cozy here. Do you want two books or three? Let’s make this room our princess castle, here’s your princess nightie. ETC.

In other words, get your child to their room without making a big deal of it, shut the doors and don’t let them out.

But do it quietly. And subtly.

This way you reduce your child’s ability to run around wildly. The trip between the bathroom and the bed is obviously a hard one for your child and one that invites running! Removing the obstacles to their doing what you don’t like, in this case, means removing the temptation — and the ability — to run around

Or let’s say you don’t want your child to eat so much junk food.

Sorry — but you’re going to have to either hide the junk food you like or stop buying it all together. And don’t go to fast food places together either. If you want your child to stop eating so much junk, make it hard for them to find any!

These three principles WILL help — if you think about how to use them. They are not magic. They won’t make parenting a snap in five minutes as so many blogs promise you their advice will do — but they WILL help.

Thank you, Richard Thaler! The next book you write should be for parents!

Screen Time for Kids – AGAIN!!!!!!!

Screen time is one of the biggest headaches of parenting life these days. I’ve written about this before and I’m quite sure I’ll be writing about it again.

1. As Stuart Dredge says in The Medium Daily Digest, “This isn’t just about setting time limits. Screen time can be something creative and fun that we do together, rather than something my children do alone while I nag them to come out on a walk.”

Researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute and Cardiff University interviewed 20,000 parents with children between the ages of two and five regarding the online habits of their young children, and said “If anything, our findings suggest the broader family context, how parents set rules about digital screen time, and if they’re actively engaged in exploring the digital world together, are more important than the raw screen time.”

“Actively engaging in exploring the digital world together” can involve using devices WITH your children – whether playing online games or using educational software.

But this is hard. It means not always using computer time for your child as time that you as a parent can get other things done.

But perhaps it’s also more realistic than just setting draconian limits on screen time. Our children live in a digital world.  They were born into a digital world.  That’s why they are sometimes called “digital natives”.  And that is why they NEED to learn how to use devices but also learn how to LIMIT THEIR OWN USE OF DEVICES.

This is where parents come in. Using devices WITH your children and then demonstrating when it is time to take a break to eat or to get outside and ride a bike is a way to model good digital/online habits. 

What our children really need to learn in the long run is ONLINE SELF REGULATION.

Parents can also have their kids show them their favorite Youtube channels. You don’t have to do this every day – but perhaps once a week each child in your family could get a chance to show you what they like. In my house we do that at the dinner table. You may prefer to do it at another time – perhaps on a weekend when you have more time. But this way you can see what they are watching (or at least SOME of it) and engage with them about it.

2. Screens are not a good idea just before bedtime.  Multiple studies have demonstrated the harmful effects of blue light on sleep.  Moreover, the content of what kids are watching/doing/playing may be exciting or overstimulating and these feelings in and of themselves can interfere with sleep. This goes for instant messaging and Facetiming too!

3. If your child is getting angry or acting out when you tell them it is time to get off the screen, this is a sign that they need more help from you – not more punishments. This is happening in every home – and there’s a reason.  Online activities are so pleasurable, they are hard to stop.  And they are especially hard to stop when your child is right in the middle of something.  

– Try to talk with them about stopping when they finish a game or a video…even if they have 3 minutes of time left.  Talk to them about how much easier it is to stop when you have completed something than when you are right in the middle. Offer to apply the 3 minutes to their next screen time.
– Try giving a 10 minute and a 5 minute warning when they have limited time left to use the screen.
– If this doesn’t work, try sitting with them for the last 5 minutes and turning the game/activity off FOR them at the end.  They will hate this.  They may throw a tantrum.  But the next time they need to stop and you come over to sit with them, they may get off when it’s time!

Thanks to Stuart Dredge whose excellent post in The Medium Daily Digest inspired THIS post!

Baby Gorilla Born for the First Time in the Cleveland Zoo’s History – what happened next and what we as human parents can learn from this!

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo announced that for the first time in its 139 year history, a baby gorilla has been born there.

The baby was born to Nneka, a 23 year old female, and Mokolo, a 34 year old male.  

This was Nneka’s first baby and either she did not know how to care for her baby or she was not interested.  

However, Fredrika, or Freddy, the troop’s oldest female, who had raised four infants herself, WAS interested, and she took over.

The team at the zoo had been preparing for this possibility for months.  They had brought in a stuffed gorilla baby and had bottle fed the “baby” in front of the female gorillas.  They also rewarded the female gorillas if they brought the “baby” to a team member for feeding.

After the actual gorilla baby’s birth, Freddy held the baby almost constantly and brought him to team members for feeding when he seemed hungry, just as she had been taught to do with the stuffed “baby”.

Weighing around three pounds at birth, newborn gorillas are in almost constant bodily contact with their mothers for the first six months of life and they nurse for about three years.

SO much like humans, right?

But one problem – humans, at least in Western societies, usually do not have an older female readily available if they do not know how to care for their first babies – or if they are ill or suffering from postpartum depression. AND parents usually don’t have a team available to help if there is a problem during the early weeks and months of a baby’s life.

What can we learn from this?

Well, it’s been said many times, but it DOES take a village. Or a team. Or a grandmother, aunt, uncle or a few friends.

Before YOUR baby is born, think of who you want on your team.

And if you already have children and don’t feel like you have enough help, try to bring some relatives or friends closer.  And if this isn’t possible, look for a parents group in your community where you can meet other parents and possibly make new parent friends with whom you can trade some babysitting, advice or support.

After all, we are ALL primates – and we can learn more about parenting even from our cousins, the gorillas!