When it comes to coping skills, like nearly everything else, practice makes perfect.
When my daughter was still in grade school, I had no way to get her to a music lesson so I arranged a taxi. She told her best friend she was anxious about taking the taxi alone. Her friend laughed and said, “You’ve flown from Israel to America as an unaccompanied minor, what’s a taxi?” And sure enough, my daughter then felt more comfortable about her upcoming independent journey.
What gave her courage? The previous success or the retelling of it? Both. Each of our successful coping experiences, even if seemingly unimportant at the time, can make us more confident in our abilities, especially if recalled at the right time.
I was reminded of this while listening to Judo Olympic Medalist Arik Zeevi speak about “Winning the Every Day Battles” at a recent Jeremy’s Circle event.
Zeevi explained how the success of years of training could be decided in just seconds. In Judo, like many sports, there is no “good enough”. Judokas either win or lose a match. Regularly, he dealt with the possibility of winning big or losing big…possibly in front of fans who invested time and money to cheer him on. How did he do it?
He explained how he played the long game. He saw that each win and loss were just steps in a journey. He would not define himself by one event, but rather by his entire career.
For the rest of us mere mortals, this means that losing a job is not the end of our careers, just a setback. It means breaking up a romantic relationship doesn’t mean we will be alone forever. And just because things may be tense or scary at home right now, doesn’t mean it will always be that way.
At Jeremy’s Circle, a non-profit supporting children with cancer or cancer loss in their families, we know too well that children sometimes must deal with extremely difficult circumstances. We serve as a community and resource for them. Among other things, we help them blow off steam and feel normal in their not-so-normal situations with fun family and teen events with other kids like them.
Not all of us need the mental fortitude of a world-class athlete to get through our day. And yet, it would certainly be valuable when we are struck with something significant, like a terrible letdown, a loss, or a frightening diagnosis in our family, and the grueling treatment that often follows.
And we can’t cope for our kids. They have to learn to do it themselves. Unfortunately, at some point our children will need to face something truly awful – whether at age 5, 15, or 50. And even if they don’t (tfu tfu, that’s terrific!) than even something relatively minor to someone else could be the worst thing that has ever happened to them and have that same overwhelming impact.
As parents, we often try to protect our children from anything too challenging, unfamiliar, negative, or even scary. But if we look at coping as a muscle, we can help them strengthen their resilience. Each small disappointment, every little setback, is a chance to reinforce these abilities. While it may fill us with pride when our kids excel, the truth is they can learn just as much (if not more?) when they fail.
We can provide our children opportunities for both successes and defeats with bite-size challenges that fit their nature, like puzzles at home or the latest ninja-style local playground. And then remind them how they succeeded as they face new challenges.
By teaching our children to exercise their coping muscles and to look at their setbacks within a longer timeframe, we aren’t just helping them now. We help them grow into functioning, independent adults with the tools to face what life throws at them.