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20/09/2011 / melgardener

Building character

Not the cake in question

My 4 year old daughter related a story to me yesterday in the back of the car on the way home. It wasn’t a particularly earth-shattering story – something about a mix up at daycare that saw her miss out on a piece of birthday cake. I sympathised with her and made some innocuous comment about the incident “building character”.

“How do you build character, Mummy?” she asked.

And that’s when I paused because – really – what was I trying to teach my 4 year old?

Yes, the world sucks sometimes and sometimes you don’t get what you want, when you want it. Yes, sometimes you miss out on things you really wanted. Yes, it’s unfair and yes, we all have to learn to deal with it.

But she’s four.

When you are four years old, just about the worst thing that can happen is that you miss out on something coveted such as birthday cake. Shouldn’t I allow her to be upset about this? After all, from her perspective, it’s a pretty darn upsetting turn of events.

Have I become so focussed on hardening my children to the ‘realities’ of life that I’m negating the fact that it’s okay to feel upset about an event which is genuinely upsetting.

Building resilience in children is about letting them know that they won’t achieve at absolutely everything they undertake – and learning how to be okay with not being the best is a great life lesson. It’s also about allowing others to be better at something than you are without it affecting your self-worth or esteem. It’s about working hard and doing your best…and not comparing yourself to others.

But is it okay for me to expect that my four year old is going to get this? And, in trying to teach her to suck it up, am I really teaching her not to stand up for herself?

I don’t want to raise children who cause a fuss over nothing (although present indications are that I’m failing at this – miserably!!) but I do want them to be okay with feeling sad or put out or left out if the circumstances call for it.

So, I took a deep breath and, instead of telling her to get over it and harden up, I commiserated and hopefully showed her that her feelings of sorrow were completely validated.

“That’s okay, Mummy,” she said. “I got piece in the end”.

Oh well. I guess I’ll save the lesson for another day.

Are you all about building character? How do you teach your kids resilience?

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