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Intentional Parenting and Raising Resilient Children

April 21, 2021 by Tawny Kilpper

Recess and RhetoricIn my earliest days as a young parent, I benefited from a wise role model who taught me the importance of intentional parenting. I learned from her example to embrace my role as the primary educator of my children. As my husband and I began our family, we had the freedom and responsibility to choose what were the most important things to teach our children in every arena of life: intellectual, spiritual, and social/emotional.

Lessons learned from a basket of clementines

One morning over coffee with this friend, I watched with interest as her toddler pulled on the corner of a table runner set between us. The long narrow piece of fabric slowly slid past our steaming mugs and warm scones. In the center rested a basket filled with clementines. As her little boy continued to tug on the fabric, the basket inched perilously close to the edge of the table. It quickly became apparent he would pull the basket right onto his head. I found it curious that she didn’t intervene. Don’t wise moms keep their children from danger? The basket tipped, and the mandarin oranges rained down on his head and shoulders. He looked up with crocodile tears and a mouth ready to wail, but his mom’s broad grin stopped him in his tracks. She cheerily reassured him, “That’s ok;” and then asked, “How do you fix it?” He took a deep breath, rubbed the tears from his eyes, and then righted the basket on the floor and turned to gather the fruit that had rolled to all corners of the kitchen.

Allow discomfort to promote problem solving 
As a parent, you know your children best: their strengths as well as their unique challenges. You have hopes and dreams for them. You want the best for them. I learned from observing my friend with her son that sometimes allowing your children to experience moments of discomfort or even failure produces a quality they will need for success in life: resilience

In his “Portrait of Our Ideal Graduate,” Soo Chang, Providence’s head of school, lists 16 habits of the mind that we aim to develop through distinctly Christian education. Resilience is on that list. Mr. Chang defines the trait as “committing to a work ethic when under pressure and developing strategies to push forward.”

When we try to protect our kids or stay one step in front of them, we rob them of valuable opportunities to develop problem-solving skills. When confronted with unfamiliar or challenging situations, the process of figuring out what they need to do fosters confidence in children that they can find good solutions and handle the unexpected.

Stanford professor Carol Dweck’s book Mindset profoundly influenced how I saw my role as my children’s primary educator and fundamentally shifted how I encouraged, corrected, and motivated my daughters (now 19 and 15). Dr. Dweck, a psychologist, theorizes that we all have different beliefs about the underlying nature of ability. Children and adults with a “growth mindset” believe that intelligence and abilities can be developed through effort, persistence, trying different strategies, and learning from mistakes. 

Summarizing her work, Dweck writes:

We found that students’ mindsets—how they perceive their abilities—played a key role in their motivation and achievement, and we found that if we changed students’ mindsets, we could boost their achievement. More precisely, students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset). And when students learned through a structured program that they could “grow their brains” and increase their intellectual abilities, they did better. Finally, we found that having children focus on the process that leads to learning (like hard work or trying new strategies) could foster a growth mindset and its benefits.

polo shirt with tie

Focus on process, not outcome
In the best circumstance, parents will search for a school that will partner with them to help develop the attributes in their children they value most. Mr. Chang highlights this very partnership in A Blueprint for a Distinctly Christian Education: “The particular role of a Christian school is to partner with the parent(s) for a limited season in a child’s lifelong educational journey, by directing, guiding, and nurturing the process of the child’s development and flourishing with a view toward fulfilling God’s purpose for the child’s life.”

My husband and I found powerful partners in Providence teachers who are willing to allow students the freedom to fail, encourage them to take risks, and support them as they learn from their mistakes. 

A great example of this is a Middle School science fair project that Eva, our eldest daughter, undertook in eighth grade. She attempted a social experiment to determine the tipping point of trendsetting by wearing ties with her school dress-code polo shirts. For eight weeks, Eva endured confused stares and snarky comments as she bravely wore brightly colored ties with every school-day outfit. And just when it seemed an “early adopter” might join her, someone found her notes logging all the responses and realized she was conducting an experiment. Eva was disappointed but committed to completing her report, even with her results compromised, which included a video highlighting the menswear-trend hitting the high-fashion runways at the time. She received an honorable mention for her project, and many teachers applauded her risk taking, even though her experiment technically failed.

Tawny and Eva Kilpper, Graduation Day 2019

Failure is the gateway to resilience

It’s not often as a parent that you get to hear if the lessons you endeavor to teach your children have gotten through to them. But we were privileged with that opportunity when, four years later, Eva addressed her classmates in a speech at Upper School graduation. She encouraged them “to value striving over success, to find strength in softness, and to learn to fail well.”

She went on to say, “Why would we want to fail well when we could avoid failing altogether? I think failing is a little bit like falling…. I’m a bit of a klutz, and I often fall, on stairs, out of trees, once out of the back of a pickup truck, but I’ve never broken a single bone.” 

Demonstrating she’s learned resilience, she continued, “Because I fall so often in little ways, I’ve learned to fall in a way that keeps me from getting hurt, and it carries over to incidents that could have ended in major injuries. Similarly, learning to fail well in little things can carry over to keep you from being crushed by larger failures. If you avoid failure like the plague, if you fear it and fight against it with everything you have, one day you’ll reach a point where your best is not enough, and you’ll be crushed by it.”

I couldn’t have known at the time how valuable that instructive moment with the clementine basket would prove to be for my family and me. However, after 13 months of navigating COVID-19, resilience has proven to be one of the most critical attributes our children have needed to weather this season. As I constantly remind myself as I seek to protect my kids from hardship, the best lessons are seldom comfortably learned. I trust they’ll emerge from this season with new strategies for navigating challenges and confidence in their ability to figure out their next steps with wisdom and discernment.


Tawny Kilpper joined the Providence community as a parent in 2005 and accepted an administrative position as admissions (K–12) and marketing director in 2019. She helped orchestrate fundraising events for Providence and Santa Barbara Christian School for many years, developing her passion for cultivating culture and nurturing brand identity while helping the school reach its goals. A graduate of UCSB with a degree in theater arts, she has over 25 years of experience in theater and film, honing the craft of telling compelling narratives. She and her husband, Brent Kilpper, are the parents of two daughters; alumna Eva (Class of 2019) and current student Ruby (Class of 2023). 

READ MORE:

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck (2006)

Portrait of our Ideal Graduate by Soo Chang (2020)

A Blueprint for a Distinctly Christian Education by Soo Chang (2020)

Student Spotlight: Eva Kilpper, Engineer and Artist by Elaine Rottman (1/10/18)

LEARN MORE:
For more information on the distinctly Christian education at Providence School, contact Tawny Kilpper, admissions director, at tkilpper@providencesb.org

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