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Parents' Weekend speaker shares advice for building resilience

Psychologist and author Dr. Madeline Levine was the keynote speaker at Santa Catalina School’s Parents’ Weekend on October 23, offering important insights into how we can cultivate resilience in our children and support their personal development.

Dr. Levine, an expert on child and adolescent psychology and parenting, is the author of Ready or Not: Preparing our Kids to Thrive in an Uncertain and Rapidly Changing World. She is also a co-founder of Challenge Success, a project at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education that provides families and schools with practical tools for raising healthy, motivated children.

In her speech, Dr. Levine focused on the impact that COVID-19 had on children and the lessons learned along the way. “If COVID made anything clear, it was that resilience really should be at the top of the list of things we’re trying to cultivate in our kids,” she said. “Resilience is a set of skills, and they’re as teachable as anything else.”

Dr. Levine offered parents some advice for helping their children build resilience:

  • Provide the “four s’s.” An environment that is safe, secure, seen, and soothed.
  • Be a supportive guide. Allow them to work through their day-to-day challenges and try to avoid stepping in too soon. “Every time we step in and do something well-intentioned but unnecessary for our kids, we rob them of the opportunity to learn that they can manage [a challenge],” she said.
  • Share your struggles. “One of the things you need is flexibility, and one of the ways you teach flexibility is to let your kids know what’s been hard for you,” she said. We tend to share our heroic stories because it makes us feel good, “but it’s just as important to tell kids what’s been tough.”
  • Tackle your own anxiety first. “You don’t want to lead with your own anxiety,” Dr. Levine said. “Kids borrow our state of mind.” Through activities such as meditation, breathing, or writing, you can help shift your thinking from the emotional part of your brain to the planning and executive functioning part.
  • Build out their toolbox. Just as we have our coping skills, kids have theirs. Through guidance and support, you can help them grow their list of tools to draw from. For example, Dr. Levine found that children who maintained a sense of purpose and connection during the pandemic, such as by engaging in community service, fared better than those who didn’t. “Resilience varies,” she said. “We can be resilient in some circumstances and not in others, and I think what makes a difference is how many tools you have at your disposal.”

Dr. Levine also talked about the ways parents and educators can help students overcome anxiety associated with grades and getting into the “best” college. She believes more emphasis should be placed on teaching soft skills—what she prefers to call foundational skills—than on grades. “The jobs of the future are not going to be reliant on the metrics” that we have always relied on, she said. What matters to companies now are skills such as the ability to collaborate, to think quickly, and to be attuned to other people on the team.

In the end, she encouraged parents to see their children as a movies, not snapshots. “If you're looking at your kid as a snapshot, every moment is critical—he got a B-minus, he didn't get into this school, he's not on the team—and it's a big deal,” she said. “But if you look at your kid as a movie, you see at the end of it what mattered was that they had good values.”

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