Five Ws to Help Your Child Build Resiliency

If you’d rather listen than read: (11 minute listen)

Our children need to fail. They need to have a bad day, to feel sadness, to be disappointed. They need to work through frustration and anger and tough stuff.

Why? Because they are little human beings who need to learn how to be big human beings and knowing how to navigate negative emotion is essential for a successful, mostly happy life. It also shows them that the blips in life won’t derail us, that the hurt feelings heal and that they, using their own resources, are capable of hard things.

We all know this to be true. Why then, is it so damn difficult to not try and fix everything that is bothering them?

“You look sad today. What happened? Was someone mean to you? Did a teacher yell at you? Tell me. Tell me. I want to help.”

I have done this many times, and I have learned that all this overt concern and caring accomplishes is to teach my child there is something so wrong with you if you aren’t feeling amazing right now. Allowing them to work through and navigate the downs is an easy gift we can give them. And, while it may be challenging, with a little intention, I know we can do it.

I am working on a community-wide wellness initiative and one of the biggest issues raised by mental healthcare professionals and educators is that parents, with all our good intention, are getting in the way of their children’s ability to develop resiliency. For the effort, I came up with five steps to help us be mindful of the bigger picture benefits when our kids are having a bad day. If we give ourselves the space to feel it, we will know when things are serious enough to require us to be a “fixer.

WAIT … just pause and take a few deep breaths before you say or do anything (this is always a key to parenting intentionally)

WITNESS … as you simply sit still, observe. Give your child an opportunity to talk, to even yell or to just be. There is a chance, he or she will move on with no interjection from you.

WONDER … get curious. If after a reasonable waiting time, you feel they would benefit from talking about it, ask questions. Make these questions open ended. Starting them with “I wonder …” or “I’m curious …” is very useful as it conveys that you believe they have all the information and possibly the solution. It is empowering. Don’t project your feelings (even though I realize your mama bear may be raging) and don’t make assumptions about the way they are feeling.

WISDOM … our rational brain is such an asset at times like these, yet we (I) too often let our (my) emotional brain guide us (me.) It almost always guides us into a dark, scary, catastrophically-thinking place. By listening to our rational, frontal-lobe, fully-evolved brain, we will be able to clearly see the playing field and how this moment will ultimately help or child. Sometimes, she will just tell us that this is no big deal, our involvement will elevate the issue, and our child can and should move on. Honestly, if there are two doors and behind one you hear lapping waves, laugher and an ice cream truck and behind the other, you hear explosions, gunfire and screaming, our emotional brain will jump through door number two. She’s so useless at times like this. Our rational brain is much better equipped to take the lead, and by listening to her, we can hit that warm sandy beach sooner.

WARMTH … speaking of warmth, often love is all you need. All people are comforted by two things, feeling heard and feeling loved. If your child knows you love them unconditionally, not in spite of whatever they are dealing with or because of whatever they are dealing with, they will be more successful at managing any negative emotion, and will be able to lead themselves to a better place sooner and with more confidence.

Essentially, this boils down to listening, curiosity and love. These are almost always enough. I give you the Ws because they help me remember the response to my child’s pain that will be the most helpful, to her and to me. My ultimate goal is always to get her out of pain, but I know she needs to do this on her own. If she must feel bad (and she must, again, because she is human) then I want her to learn from it and grow stronger for the next time. Personally, it is also a burden lifted to accept that not only can’t I fix everything, but that I shouldn’t fix everything.

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Author: Karen Latimer

Dr. Latimer is a Family Physician and Wellness & Parenting Coach. She works with parents who want to feel more confident when helping their children and coaches young adults to help them better navigate college life and transitions. Contact her at to learn more. She is the author of two Audible Originals, Take Back the House -- Raising Happy Parents and Worry Less, Parent Better. She is also the co-founder of the app that makes your life easier and puts social in a healthier place -- List'm.