Raising Anti-Fragile Kids: Teach Kids To Have Plan B, C… Being anti-fragile means getting better not broken by life's problems

Life does not always go as planned. That’s why we need to train our kids to be anti-fragile. To deal with an unpredictable world, one always has to have a plan B, C, D, etc. lined up. It does not matter if this does not work out, move on to finding what works. Don’t stay stuck in fear or hopelessness. Pick up the pieces and keep moving forward.

Author of Antifragile, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, defines anti-fragile as ‘beyond the resilient or robust. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the anti-fragile gets better and better’.

Take the case of billionaire, Jack Ma, he failed a college entrance exam three times. Once he ruled out college, Ma applied for 30 different jobs and got rejected. So what did he do, he started his own company, Alibaba, which was worth over $588 billion in June 2021.

Or that of Abraham Lincoln, who was unsuccessful in business, lost the senatorial race, suffered depression, failed to be nominated for Vice-President, but finally became the  16th President of the United States.

Raising Anti-Fragile Kids: Teach Them To Have Plan B, C…
Being anti-fragile means becoming better and better with each failure

If there is one thing that the Coronavirus epidemic has really brought home, it is the uncertainty of our carefully crafted existence. Boom!! and all our well-laid-out plans just went out of the window. Everyone was in lockdown and travel was restricted. The truth is, life is fickle and having more than one option is necessary if we want to really succeed and be happy.

That’s why we as parents should not get fixated on just one or two avenues as the road to success. Staying on the road to success requires openness and flexibility.

Some tips to help you raise anti-fragile kids:

1) Love Your Children Unconditionally

Your love should not be dependant on their achievement and performance. They are unique beings with their own needs and feelings. Expecting them to be a certain way and act according to what you think is best, makes them forever dependant on external validation and approval. Any failure will paralyze them and keep them stuck.

Your unconditional positive regard is what will help them internalize that inherent sense of optimistic self-esteem. Instead of feeling stuck in unworthiness when they fail, they will be able to see it as a lesson to be learned.

2) Don’t Compare Your Child To Anyone Else

When you compare your child to another child, sibling, or some famous child star you are instilling in them a feeling of inferiority. Undoubtedly,  comparison lowers self-esteem and confidence. It causes unnecessary stress, breeds envy and resentment.

Every child develops differently, there is no linear timeline to their milestones or achievements. Moreover, each child has his own unique temperament which affects interests and life paths.

Always pointing towards someone else’s achievement leads to feeling there is something inherently deficient in ME. It stops a child from developing his own talents and skillset. He simply becomes focused on another person’s achievement.

How can anyone feel capable of dealing with setbacks and criticism when one has this internalized program ‘I am not good enough’ running in one’s head.

3) Model Anti-fragility

Parents are the biggest influencers of their child’s character. Always remember your child is watching even when they don’t seem to be. How do you as a parent deal with failures and uncertainty?

Sure, it is normal to get upset and feel confused. But after the initial feeling of fear, do you try to find solutions to your problem? Or keep on whining and ranting?

Even if you don’t say it, most children below the age of 15-16 tend to internalize parental stresses, ‘this is my fault.’

As parents, we need to be aware of how we interpret a situation to our children. Sometimes as a parent, all we can give our kids is the gift of positivity. The belief that things will get better and we will get through the difficult times.

4) Do Not Take Things Personally

One important lesson in anti-fragility is not taking things personally. This is the second agreement of Don Miguel’s The Four Agreements. Nothing someone does is because of you, it is usually because of their own personal issues.  Rudyard Kipling in his poem, If, elucidates this perfectly

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

When you see your child being bullied and not being accepted by his peers don’t join in the blame game. Teach them the skillset on how to be rejection-proof. They need to understand rejection is just the universe re-directing you to something better.

5) Encourage and Foster Interest In Different Things

One big mistake parents make is over-focussing on just one or two things a child is good at. Today a child may be a very talented football player but one cannot foresee the capriciousness of life.

Initially, singer, Julio Iglesias was on the path to becoming a successful soccer player. However, a “magical” accident — as he calls it today, ended his promising soccer career, but led him on to become a world-famous singer.

Even, if your child is passionate about tennis practice, do also expose her to music, drawing, or dance, etc. classes.

6) Weighing The Options

From a young age, children should be allowed to make choices. Instead of you telling them what to do, ask them ‘would you like to watch television before doing your homework or after.’

Let them weigh the options and decide. You control the duration they choose the time – before/after. No doubt, they may try to wheedle into getting things their way. Be open to further discussions and negotiations.   Later on, this will help them become skillful decision-makers and negotiators.

Making decisions from a young age gives them confidence and helps develop their cognitive brain.

One important rule, don’t berate or chide them even if their decisions were wrong.  Point to their error and offer insights and wisdom. Gradually, they learn from this process to make better decisions next time. Thus, in tough times, they don’t irrationally act from their emotional brain but reflexively shift to their thinking brain.

7)  Ifthenelse Discussions

In the myriad discussions with my son with regards to his career plans, I would always insert the ifthenelse coding statement.

For example, if you don’t get into X college, then what else would be your option. So, glad I did because suddenly my well-thought-of life plan fell apart, and then COVID happened.

Notwithstanding, my son found his own solutions and is earning well.

8) Make Upredictability A Part of Their Life

According to British pediatrician and psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott a ‘good enough parent’ sometimes fails a child in manageable ways. In fact, babies and children actually benefit when their mothers fail them occasionally.

Always doing things a certain way or going only to a certain place for a holiday is shaping your child’s mind to only expect certainty. Instead, occasionally change plans or go to another place. There will be protests and disappointment but gradually he will learn to accept and adapt to a change of plans.

Of course, it takes wisdom to know when we can/should break our promises and how to make up.

A Growth Mindset and Anti-fragility

Life is unpredictable, and it is not the fittest who usually survive. But the ones who are adaptable to changes in their environment.

At the core of anti-fragility is a strong inner belief that we are in control. That we have the power to change our life. We can beat the odds and make our life better.

Teach your child how to deal with obstacles  – with calmness and mindfulness. Instill in them the belief that there are numerous solutions to every problem.

Being anti-fragile means having a growth mindset, a term coined by Dr. Carol Dweck.  With this kind of mindset, you look at problems as opportunities for improvement. Instead of feeling beaten down, one is spurred to find better solutions.

Every successful person lives by the maxim, Failures are just stepping stones to success.

Image Source: Pexels

Further Reading:

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto) Nassim Nicholas Nicholas Taleb 

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