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The question

With all the talk about New Year’s resolutions, I’m wondering how I can help my kids with setting goals and sticking with them. They are 4 and 8. My eight-year-old begged to play hockey, but now that we’re a few games in, he doesn’t want to go.

The answer

Experts agree that high levels of resilience are not only necessary for achieving our goals, but also a strong predictor of success and satisfaction in life. Resilience is recovering after a setback, or not giving up when things get hard. It sounds like you are concerned that your child is lacking resilience. I think many of us can relate. The good news is that are many ways you can help your kids become more resilient.

First of all, we need to make sure that these are their goals, and not yours. The learning and positive feedback loop that comes from wanting something and working hard to get it has to start with an internal drive. You did say your child begged to play hockey, so that’s wonderful!

Should you let them quit? Generally, no. If you were clear with your eight-year-old about what’s involved in signing up for hockey, he’s old enough to understand that before committing. On the other hand, maybe your four-year-old begged to take ballet lessons and then discovered it’s not their cup of tea and they really only wanted the tutu and leotard. Maturity level needs to be considered. I would tell your older child that they need to finish out the season and they can’t let the team down.

What to do in the meantime?

It’s helpful to remember that after a bad day, we all feel like quitting. I talk to my kids about not quitting in a low point. Get out of the low point, and then decide if you still want to quit. Your child wanted to play hockey. How can you help them out of the low point?

Figure out why they want to quit and give them some scaffolding. Just as a building needs support while it is being constructed, sometimes children need support to reach their goals. What is your child finding difficult? Maybe they don’t have the skating skills they need to feel confident on the ice. You could take them for some extra skating practice or drills. Maybe your child doesn’t know the other children on the team and feels a bit shy. You could try to set up play time at the park after a game or practice.

Help them develop a growth mindset. “You’re not good at hockey… yet.” Hockey is hard. No one is ever good at things when they first start out. Look up some NHL players and learn about how they started. How many hours of practice did it take to get “good”? Help your child think of something they didn’t know how to do at one time but can do now. How did they get there?

Empathize. Often, it’s our inability to tolerate difficult emotions that prevents us from developing resilience. We don’t do hard things because the failure or rejection feels too overwhelming. We need to teach our children that difficult feelings such as frustration and disappointment are not an emergency. We do that by empathizing with the hard stuff and showing confidence that our kids can handle it. “You were embarrassed when you made that mistake in the game? I understand. I’ve felt that way before. It’s really tough. Come here, let me give you a hug.” We don’t say, “Suck it up.” And we don’t try to fix it. We sit with them through the suffering. Every time they recover and feel okay again after a difficult emotion, they become a little more resilient.

Finally, we need to model for them. Let your children see you set a goal for yourself and work hard to achieve it. Pick up an instrument, set a fitness goal or choose a new hobby. Share your setbacks (in an age appropriate way) and share what you do to overcome them. Let your child see what grit looks like.

If at the end of the season they still want to quit hockey, that’s fine! They stuck to it, they problem-solved, they tolerated some suffering. They will bring these experiences and their developing resilience to their next venture.

Sarah Rosensweet is a parenting coach who lives in Toronto with her husband and three kids, ages 12, 15 and 18.

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