Insights from Dr. Michele Borba, author of
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons, March 2021, ISBN: 978-0-593-08527-1, $27.00)
Today’s kids are the smartest and most driven on record. But many of them are also the loneliest, most stressed, most risk averse, and most depressed. And that was before the pandemic worsened the mental health of many of our young people.
And yet some kids are still managing to thrive, says Dr. Michele Borba, author of Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, March 2021, ISBN: 978-0-593-08527-1, $27.00).
“The reason some kids struggle while others shine has nothing to do with genes, GPAs, or playing certain sports or instruments,” says Dr. Borba. “It comes down to seven strengths that make kids healthier, happier, and more resilient.”
Here’s the catch: These strengths have got to be taught. And a single chat or some other moment in time isn’t effective. The best lessons are taught and nurtured organically and often. Read on for a rundown of the seven essential strengths that science says boost resilience and kids need, and some tips to help parents teach them.
Self-confidence, that quiet understanding of “who I am,” nurtures inner assuredness and appreciation of one’s unique qualities, strengths, and interests—and serves as a child’s customized road map to peak performance. Self-confidence also helps kids navigate life, stay the course, rebound from setbacks, and provide sorely needed inner resources to manage adversity.
Tips for Teaching Self-Confidence:
“We develop self-confidence by doing things successfully,” notes Dr. Borba. “But many parents overschedule kids, thinking we’re enriching their lives. Then, because the kids are so busy, we do things for them that they should be doing on their own. This type of ‘helicopter parenting’ can actually squash budding self-confidence. It takes away the opportunity for skill-building. When kids do simple things for themselves, like making their own doctor appointments, they start to learn what they can achieve on their own. They start to gain confidence.”
Empathy is anything but soft and fluffy: It affects our kids’ future health, wealth, authentic happiness and relationship satisfaction, and fosters resilience to overcome setbacks. Trying to raise “successful” kids without empathy shrinks thriving potential and boosts loneliness and emptiness, so kids feel depleted. Thrivers require social competence and healthy relationships to overcome setbacks and forge ahead.
Tips for Teaching Empathy:
“Many parents try to ‘curate’ empathy,” says Dr. Borba. “While they might think exposing their kids to volunteer opportunities will develop this strength, it’s not enough. A volunteer project is a single moment in time. A better approach is allowing kids to widen their circles and organically develop relationships with people who have different life circumstances. This can help them better understand and share others’ feelings and can lead them to act with compassion.”
The ability to control your attention, emotions, thoughts, actions, and desires is one of the most highly correlated strengths to success, and a surprising untapped secret to helping kids bounce back and thrive. As self-control plummets, stress builds, and kids’ abilities to focus, delay temptations, and regulate behavior decreases. Before you try building your child’s self-control, seriously reflect on your own behavior. For instance: How do you act in front of your kids when your self-control is lacking? We are living textbooks to our kids. Model what you hope your child catches.
Tips for Teaching Self-Control:
“Children today live in a more high-stress environment than previous generations, and this creates a lot of opportunities for breakdowns,” says Dr. Borba. “It is likely harder for them to learn self-control than it was for us. Yet when we try to excuse their behavior by saying, “They have a lot going on”—or worse, remove them from stressful situations—we do them no favors. They need to master the tools for self-control so they can thrive in a stressful world.”
Children with integrity are true to themselves and honest with others, as well as tenacious, responsible, courageous, and resilient. This fourth strength sets boundaries, provides inner power to resist temptations, and offers kids guidance on how to act the right way even when we’re not there. Integrity isn’t made up of DNA (or GPA) but of learned beliefs, skills, and attitudes to help kids become their personal best and thrive—the exact type of people we need in our callous, me-first world.
Tips for Teaching Integrity:
“Integrity is one of the toughest strengths to instill because with so few other parents teaching it to their kids, it might seem unfair to your child,” says Dr. Borba. “Lack of integrity is an overwhelming problem for adults in our society, so don’t be surprised if you get some pushback when you try to teach it to your kids.”
Curiosity helps children to find solutions, challenges them to explore diverse ideas, motivates them to follow their passions, and encourages them to greet each day with “What else can I discover?” And when kids face obstacles, this strength helps them think of ways to resolve their problem and find new ways to “pick themselves up and start all over again.” Curiosity prepares our children for an uncertain twenty-first century, helps them thrive both in and out of classrooms, and must be developed.
Tips for Teaching Curiosity:
“Our access to technology has squelched the curiosity in kids today,” says Borba. “Now that they can instantly Google any topic, they are less likely to spend time wondering about subjects that interest them. Instead, their minds are preoccupied with social media and other meaningless ‘noise.’ Reclaiming their curiosity empowers them to try new ideas, take risks, and innovate.”
Perseverance is the strength that pushes the envelope to help kids thrive and often makes the critical difference in whether they succeed or fail. This strength keeps kids on track, gets them closer to their dreams, and helps them thrive—and can be stretched and improved with the right lessons. It’s all why we must add teaching this sixth strength to our parenting lessons.
Tips for Teaching Perseverance:
“Life today has become a series of short-term engagements,” says Borba. “We see this even in the gig economy. Culturally, people are no longer encouraged to keep up with anything we are not happy doing in the moment, or to struggle to master something. No wonder our kids are so inclined to just give up. Teaching perseverance counteracts all this. It encourages tenacity and the resolve to bounce back.”
Optimistic kids view challenges and obstacles as temporary and able to be overcome, and so they are more likely to keep on going and succeed despite adversity. Ungrounded pessimistic thinking erodes resilience, shortchanges thriving abilities, and erodes hope. But optimism can be taught.
Tips for Teaching Optimism:
“It’s culturally popular to have a pessimistic mindset,” says Borba. “Cynicism is cool. There’s a 24/7 stream of bad news coming at them from all directions. Plus, the social media factor makes it easy for kids to unfavorably compare themselves to others. The ability to remain optimistic in the face of uncertainty is a survival skill. There can be no resilience without it.”
“To thrive in a technologically driven, fear-based, rapidly changing twenty-first-century world, kids need strength of heart, mind, and will,” concludes Borba. “The seven essential Character Strengths build strong inner foundations so kids can handle life’s inevitable bumps and lead successful, fulfilled lives. Developing them may well be the greatest parenting gift we can give, because our children will have protective factors to face inevitable hardships and be more likely to live meaningful lives without us.”
About the Author:
Michele Borba, Ed.D., is the author of Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine and UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, and is an internationally renowned educational psychologist and an expert in parenting, bullying, and character development. A sought-after motivational speaker, she has spoken in nineteen countries on five continents, and served as a consultant to hundreds of schools and corporations including Sesame Street, Harvard, U.S. Air Force Academy, eighteen U.S. Army bases in Europe and the Asian-Pacific, H.H. the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and a TEDx Talk: “Empathy Is a Verb.” She offers realistic, research-based advice culled from a career working with over one million parents and educators worldwide. She is a regular NBC contributor who appears regularly on Today and has been featured as an expert on Dateline, The View, Dr. Phil, NBC Nightly News, Fox & Friends, Dr. Oz, and The Early Show, among many others. She lives in Palm Springs, California, with her husband and is the mother of three grown sons.
About the Book:
Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, March 2021, ISBN: 978-0-593-08527-1, $27.00) is available at bookstores nationwide and from major online booksellers.