This is the Most Important Skill To Give Them

It’s good for them to be able to do math. It’d be helpful if they spoke another language. They should know their way around finances. They should know how to fix things.

There is so much that we want to teach our kids, so much that we want them to learn. But so many of the things we focus on as parents—that the education system focuses on—while well and good are pretty meaningless without what you might call meta-skills (we talked about this in ​our podcast episode with Dr. Becky Kennedy​).

What good is technical ability to do things without the ability to ​regulate the emotions​ that success or failure—or just plain life—is going to generate as you do those things? What good will the best schooling do, or natural talent do, if they can’t handle setbacks? If they have no resilience, if they can’t—as we’ve talked about—​deal with frustration​?

We have to watch with close interest that our children come to possess what Emerson once called a “recuperative force.” He was talking about their ability to bounce back when someone says something hurtful, “when they go down at school to the bottom of the class, when they fail in competition or study or of play with their mates.” If they lose their spirit at this, or if we come to be the kind of parent that simply smooths these problems over or eliminates every obstacle, it’s all over for them, he says. But “if they have that degree of buoyancy and resistance that makes light of these mishaps,” well then the world cannot stop them. The sky is the limit.

So by all means, ​train and teach your kids​. Give them skills. Give them resources. ​Fire them with ambition.​ But if they are not buttressed by resilience, if they are not experienced in struggle, confident in their ability to bounce back, if they do not possess a strong recuperative force? You better hope that life is all tailwinds and green lights for them. And you and they will be constantly terrified and vulnerable, because you know it cannot be.

P.S. Letting our kids struggle so they can become tough and independent isn’t always easy—for us or them. But we find the Latin phrase “Luctor et Emergo”—which means “I struggle and overcome”—a useful mantra not to suffocate and isolate our kids by spoiling them. Grab the Luctor et Emergo challenge coin for you to carry around as a reminder to build the confidence and character your children need!

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