by Mrs. May Gruia
CHA Social Worker (Grades K-8)
Mrs. Gruia has a heart for the social and emotional development of children of all ages, and we are excited as she shares helpful insights for our parents. Look for her articles here and in CHA’s Parents’ Page newsletter.
Resilience in our Children
In order to produce the best fruit, grapes are planted in harsh soil and close together. This is a great analogy of how God allows us and our children to go through trials in order to mature and produce the best fruit.
I recently attended a fascinating panel discussion regarding building resilience in our children. The speakers, each skilled in their fields, made insightful observations. Peggy Kubert, LCSW is the Director of Education at Erika’s Lighthouse, a nonprofit organization providing free mental health resources to parents and children. Nancy Watson, LCSW, CADC, is the School Social Worker at Lake Shore Forest Country Day. Lee Dal Pra, AM, LCSW, is the Director of Child Health Programs at Compass Health Chicago and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Chicago.
One of my favorite stories told was that of how grapes grow. Watson explained that grapes are actually planted in harsh, rocky, and clayish soil so that the plant becomes resourceful, flexible, and adaptive. If grapes are planted in lush soil and far apart, their roots remain rather surface level, the vine and leaves are given many nutrients, and little fruit is produced. When grapes are planted close together in harsh soil, their roots dig deep, they use every resource available, and nutrients are more equally distributed among the vine, leaves, and fruit. This type of soil helps produce much fruit that is useful.
Just like grapes, our children are oftentimes “planted” together and experience adverse conditions together. Sometimes this causes conflict, drama, and pain. Nonetheless, this helps their roots dig deeper for resources and they learn how to be flexible, intuitive, and adaptive.
Another fascinating analogy was given by Dal Pra. Having much experience working with children, she likens anxiety to someone driving a bus. There are passengers on this bus and some begin to make noise and demand that the bus goes in certain directions. As long as you obey these passengers, they sit quietly. However, if you only do what they say, you never really learn to control them and to develop coping mechanisms. Instead of calming down the passengers, the driver is at their mercy and does not drive the bus where it needs to go.
The passengers on the bus are like the emotions we carry around. They are normal and natural. At the same time, Dal Pra explained that the more you face these motions, the better you tolerate them and tolerate distress well. The challenge, however, is actually facing the emotions (because that causes distress).
Kubert did a nice job of summarizing how we as parents feel when our children fail – we feel as though it is a reflection on us and our parenting abilities. Sometimes we want to rescue them in an effort of actually rescuing ourselves. There is no such thing as a perfect parent or perfect parenting and we need to give ourselves space to make mistakes (as well as give our children room to fail and learn through natural consequences). Kubert concluded by saying that our children can handle so much more than we give them credit for.
Even though we may want to rescue our children from the hardships of life, from the emotional pain they may experience, or from adverse experiences, allowing our children to experience discomfort actually helps them learn how to manage it and whatever emotions may come along. More importantly, it helps them realize that they have control over their emotions and over themselves.
God cares very much for us and the various trials we and our children face. In James 1:2-4 it is written:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (ESV)
As difficult as the trials our children face may be, God knows them and has provided for them. We are encouraged to know that trials have a purpose and help our children mature both emotionally and spiritually.