When my oldest son was learning to ride a bike, he fell—a lot. Since he learned to ride a balance bike before a pedal bike, he didn’t have training wheels to hold him steady. At first, I had to temper the urge to race over and pick him up and inspect him for bruises, cuts and broken bones. I had to let him get up on his own. Every time he fell, I realized he’d look for my reaction. Did I look fearful or concerned? If I did, he’d start crying. If I didn’t, he’d pop back up and start riding again, usually with a smile on his face. I learned to offer encouraging words and say things like “Good improvement!” If he had a scratch or cut, he’d ask for a bandage and get back to it. Occasionally, he’s say, “Mommy, I’m done for today,” but a few hours later he’d be back on his bike. Falling helped him find his limits—both physical and mental—so he could continue to improve.

"Our greatest glory is, not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." – Oliver Goldsmith

Taking off the Training Wheels

Resiliency is an essential skill for people of all ages. According to Merriam-Webster, resilience is “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” This could mean getting back on a bike after falling or studying harder for the next test after receiving a bad grade. It’s in seeing failure and falling down as an opportunity to learn or grow, instead of a limit to be imposed or a reason to quit.

Many of us are afraid to fail, to fall down, to experience a change that sets us back from our goals or makes us feel unsuccessful. We become comfortable with our training wheels and are afraid to take risks in the fear that we might fail and that failure will become part of our identity—how others see us. We become anxious about avoiding failure and depressed if we don’t meet expectations. This behavior and mindset then becomes so ingrained in ourselves that we pass it on to our kids, who have adopt it and find it tough to cope with setbacks in their lives as well.

Recent studies about helicopter parenting have shown that many young people are less resilient than previous generations and haven’t learned to cope with the challenges of life. Well-meaning parents, under the advice of experts and parenting trends, have shielded their kids from failure and created smooth, problem-free paths to follow. As a result, many people don’t have the skills to solve problems, handle challenges and learn from failure. As our kids grow, we watch them experience new firsts—first steps, first words, first time feeding oneself, and more. As they learn each skill, they progressively improve and we cheer them on along the way. However, during the process of learning, they fail many times. They fall down, mix up words and sounds, spill food and get it everywhere other than their mouths. Along the way, we battle the urge to help them too much; to scoop them up when they fall or take the spoon from their hands and feed them. Although we understand the process takes time and practice, we want to ease any difficulty or suffering our kids may encounter in the process—we want to act as their training wheels. However, by not allowing our kids to try again and figure it out for themselves, we’re not only preventing them from mastering the essential skills of life, we’re keeping them from becoming more resilient.

Building Resiliency

The first step to becoming more resilient is to rethink how we perceive failure and change. Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  Failure, and its subsequent setbacks, is an opportunity to learn and grow; it’s how we find our true limits and reach our true potential. By viewing failure as an opportunity, we no longer have a reason to fear it—we take away that power. We try again and look for solutions instead of dwelling on the disappointment of failing. Each time we face and solve a challenge, we become stronger and more resilient. We develop the tools we need to tackle the problem with ease the next time it occurs.

Second, we must remove judgement from failure. How often does our internal dialog chime in with “I’m so stupid” or “I’ll never be able to…”? How often do we think or say something similar to our kids when they make a mistake, especially as they get older? How often do we rush in with advice about how it should have been done? Part of building resiliency is feeling supported when we make mistakes and also being given the freedom to figure out how to fix it on our own. Instead of jumping in with advice, ask questions to analyze what went wrong and figure it out how to move forward—“What do you think went wrong?”, “What can you do next time to improve?”, “What have you learned from the experience?”

Third, foster gratitude. When things go sideways, it’s natural to feel disappointment, frustration and anger. However, we must move out of that zone. Gratitude encourages us to reframe the problem and appreciate what went right and look for the positive. If we experience a loss or setback, we acknowledge our feelings and feel grateful for the opportunity we had instead of on the mistake that was made.

Much like building muscle, building resilience is a process that takes time. Over time we get stronger and feel empowered to handle whatever happens in life. Although it’s never too late to become more resilient, by encouraging it in children while they’re young, we’re setting them up to thrive in life later on.



Laura Foreman is a copywriter and amateur garden photographer living in Northern California. Though currently on hiatus from long-distance cycling, she looks forward to helping her kids build the resilience and skills necessary to join her one day.

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