7 Strategies to Raise Resilient Creative Children

Photo by Alvin Mahmudov on Unsplash

I live in Africa, I’m a mathematician and we live in interesting times, so we might be pretty f*cked: Climate change is a glaring reality, Britain just broke from the European Union, and the world is grinding to a halt because of a virus. The global economy is probably dead.

Nevertheless, we still have to be parents to our kids, and occasionally adults to our parents, which means we have a responsibility to teach them to navigate our mess with grace.

Here are strategies that our family has used to raise a precocious, slightly quirky, emotionally sharp 8-year-old, and a laconic, straight-backed, musical 18-year-old.

1. We make up jokes.

It started with variations on chicken jokes at dinner time and then got quite out of hand. We usually can’t get through a meal without someone telling a joke that they’ve made up on the spot or enjoyed hearing. Here are a few originals.

Why did the chicken stop at the traffic light? (The driver hit the brakes.)

Why did the gecko eat the firefly? (It was a light supper.)

Why did the goat cross the road? (To get the kids from school.)

What purple jeans can’t you wear? (Aubergines.)

Why was the chicken confused? (He was at a crossroads.)

There are strong research links between humor, creativity, and intelligence. Humor involves quick shifts in perception — you’re going down one track only to be surprised that you are on another. Letting your kids tell jokes and invent new ones (even if they are terrible) is a way to teach them to read between the lines, look for unusual links in language, and think outside of the box.

2. We rescue one starfish at a time.

There is a story about a woman on the beach that is covered in thousands of washed-up starfish after a storm. A passerby sees her throwing them back and says, “Why bother, you aren’t going to make a difference.” So, the woman responds graciously, while throwing a starfish back into the water, “Well, I made a difference to that one.”

We focus on small changes and small victories every day. This is the mantra of one starfish.

Very few of us will have the power to influence the world at scale. We just won’t have that kind of reach in our lifetimes. And we don’t need to have it. If you teach your kids to take care of one starfish at a time, and if we all adopt this as a philosophy, then the world changes at a micro-level and these changes aggregate to the macro-level.

It can be as simple as picking up litter, or volunteering with your child, or having meat-free days. This is leading by small examples.

3. We work through big feelings.

We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t experience trauma. We are created by our traumas: broken and reshaped. But it’s different when it is your child that goes under anaesthesia to fix a cavity, panics as the mask is about to go on, and comes out with a stress-induced asthmatic cough that she didn’t have before.

At that point, I didn’t like my options and I had thankfully read Peter Levine’s book: How to Trauma Proof Your Kids. So, I got some props including a face mask, the bunny rabbit and a few other stuffed toys, and we played the dentist game. My then four year old told her story every evening before bed until we had role-played our way through the trauma. In a week, she coughed less, in three months she didn’t cough at all.

Now it’s behind us, but it was a valuable lesson for our family on working through complex events with storytelling and, more importantly, story listening until the fragments resolved into a whole.

A couple of days ago she tried to resolve a tense situation between her parents by getting out her bunny and penguin and playing things through. First, you teach your kids, then they teach you, about you.

4. We play board games for fun.

Board games? It seems a little antiquated to be playing board games, not when there is so much high variety, intense stimulation out there in the app-verse. However, if you want to practice math, or teach strategy, then there isn’t a better place to get started. We taught counting between the Settlers of Catan and Monopoly. Lately, we’ve been playing variations of Risk and Ticket to Ride which are a bit more strategic.

If you want to play board games consciously, then the trick is to observe your own behavior while you play with your kids. Are you stepping in, trying to play for them? Do you know the “better” move? Are you allowing them to win by holding back? Do you get hyper-competitive and make the game about winning or losing, instead of enjoyment? Do you make the game easier for them by making up “special rules”? Do you play very strictly by the rules? Do you continue playing when they are upset? Do you continue playing when there is complaining Do you let them play their own game? Do you cheat?

These are all opportunities for growth and change in a safe microcosm. Catch yourself and learn about your own patterns, before you pass them on.

We observe our children, and they observe us. Most parents are totally focussed on the first part only. It’s the second one that counts. Board games are a good place to teach both strategic and cooperative behavior. They are also a good place to teach your kids your bad habits, so be mindful.

And if you get bored, then think about how your kids feel when you are busy, when they are around.

5. We don’t own a TV.

We haven’t owned a TV for around 8 years now. No, this doesn’t make us saints, and not owning a TV doesn’t mean we don’t watch stuff. We do have Netflix which is limited to “on the laptop”. It’s just that we have avoided getting a big screen in the house. Why?

TV and Media (including social media) is like junk food for the mind. So, would you put a large junk food dispenser in your kitchen? Not if you want to manage your diet.

At any given time, as an adult, the rest of the world is fighting for your attention. Mostly, because it would like to monetize it. Try to think of it from your child’s perspective: Our children are growing up in a very distracted society, they see us constantly on our devices, being entertained and being passive, tuning out of the moment, and tuning into to some digital experience that isn’t real-life. Humans love stories, and we are wired for storytelling, but living in a digital story isn’t a very rich life.

6. We fight often.

When you put people close together there are going to be edges. The battle lines get crossed. There is a familiar drum of arguing in the back seat. The dishwasher hasn’t been unpacked, and nobody has fed the cats or the dog this evening. In a flash, everyone is a little agitated, we’re at each other’s throats and someone stormed off hurt, angry and upset.

So, one day, when I had enough of it all. I started breaking plates.

We had had a fight, and everyone was recovering in their own corners. I felt the overwhelming need to own my feelings of agitation and disconnection. They were mine, not mine to hurl like lightning bolts at someone else, but mine to express and to let go so that I could be me again, and emerge from the chaos. And lead.

I have discovered that breaking plates when you are angry is really satisfying. The Greeks and Italians are on to something. And then we all did it. There was enough chipped crockery for a good party. Our 8-year-old was fearful at first because in her reality breaking things was “bad”, then we really got stuck in. It was a good lesson for us all: We found commonality and fun in the doing, being, breaking and cleaning.

If you want to lead your child out of her distress, then connect with her and don’t reject her feelings. Let go of what “should be” and work with what’s in front of you.

If you want to lead your teen out of his numb (post-heartbreak) state, then be sensitive instead of critical. Don’t push your agenda that he ought to quit smoking.

If you want to reconnect with your spouse after a near separation, then be honest about your feelings instead of angry at their behavior as a mask for your own disappointments and failings.

E.M Forster said, “Only Connect,” but this is for saints. In reality, we connect, disconnect, connect and disconnect. And usually our sense of disconnection with ourselves is embedded in our closest relationships: Parents, kids, siblings, and spouses.

The gift of a fight is the invitation of one more time. One more breath, one more kind word, and a deepening of love. It comes down to a question of humility over self-righteousness, and forgiveness over resentment.

7. We laugh.

Big belly laughs, crazy laughs, wild exaggerated laughs: Just let rip, in the long run, you are dead anyway. Laugh like a crazy person, and teach your family to do so too. And if you are stuck and don’t know to laugh, you can always join a laughing yoga session: This is how we’re making it through lockdown.

Listen to people’s laughter, it’s deeply revealing about their capacity for joy and their ability to feel.

Listen to your own laughter.

I laughed at my father’s funeral, aching inside, and tears streaming down my face because of all the good stories we to tell.

And isn’t that what we want our kids to remember?

That’s it.

Don’t forget to clap!

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Token Engineer | Mathematician

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Viroshan Naicker

Viroshan Naicker

Token Engineer | Mathematician

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