How to bulletproof your kids for life


What parents say

Four common things parents say to kids:

  1. “Stop that, or I’ll give you something to cry about”
  2. “It’s just a scratch”
  3. “When I was your age…”
  4. And, quoted back at us by our six-year-old last week… “You’ll live”. Ooomph.

What parents mean

They’re saying that the kid is making a fuss over nothing, that life is unfair, that they have it better than what they know and that, under all this, they should just, you know, man up.

Happily, and contrary to what you might think, bullet proofing doesn’t just come about with other-worldly births like the regular Superman, loads of Gaulish magic potion a la Asterix or a particularly well-aimed “Expelliarmus!” Bulletproofing is a skill and, like most skills, with the right kind of coach and the right techniques, most people can learn how to do it.

Obviously (I hope!) we’re not talking about real bullets. What we are talking about is resilience. The bounce-back thing. How can you teach your kids to bounce life’s bullets, to handle things, to dust themselves off, to get back up, and not to collapse with the vapours (or worse) when things may get a little bumpy?

The coaching manual

There’s heaps we need to cover – hold on to your whistle, we’ve got a big picture to build. Consider this your overall coaching manual and game strategy, the tactics for which we’ll cover bit by bit. Here’s how this is going to play.

This is about how we, or your kids, think. Which means that we need to understand how we approach certain decisions. We need to work through then:

  • The particular kinds of decisions to work on
  • The components of these decisions
  • How we put the components together
  • The thinking that goes with these decisions
  • How you can coach kids through thinking differently
  • How you can embed these skills in a fun way from an early age

Where we’ll get to are things for you to do with kids to help them learn how to do this.  We’ll put this into a format that works for young kids so that they learn what to do. You can then help them apply the skills to different situations. For older kids, the language and examples need to be a little older. Naturally, the thinking applies to you too.

The coach

So this is you. Congratulations. Welcome to the job. If you’re like many, even most, parents, you kind of figure it out as you go along, because there isn’t a manual. So we need to develop you as a coach at the same time as developing this particular manual. You’ll have to practice this too, and encourage the players to practice. Naturally, kids enjoy it more if you practice with them…

The ballpark

We’re playing in the incredibly fertile ground that is your child’s brain. Unlike your one, it isn’t fully formed yet, and experiences are critical. Good preparation now will stand them in good stead for the wild ride we call the teenage years.

The team

Your all-stars. Your kids and family. You too. I don’t want to extend the sports metaphor too far, but sports players are actually pretty good at the kinds of things we’re doing here, and we do want to make it a game. In many cases, professional teams teach the same skills. Like players, your kids are sensitive to feedback, coaching and instruction, reinforcement, punishment and so on. And like great players, who master what they do so that much of it becomes automatic, we want to develop efficient mental subroutines that lead to resilience and not collapse. Practice is crucial, with the right coaching.

The game

It’s just true. Life is unfair. What we want to do is to handle the things that come up without them taking us over or sending us into a tailspin from which we never emerge. Key here is how we think about what happens to us. Martin Seligman calls this our Explanatory Style. That is, how do I explain what’s happened? And for us here, how do I learn to play this game better?

A simple kick around to warm up

Try this little thought experiment and you’ll see what I mean.

Say you’re walking up the road and you trip over a crack in the path. What’s your first reaction? Like most people, you’ll turn around, look at the offending crack, and think or even mutter something about the state of the path, quality of workmanship, or just some displeasure of some kind.

But what does the guy behind you, following you, watching you trip, say…?


Same situation, and two different explanations. You’ve both explained why you tripped. You explained it in terms of the path. He explained it in terms of you.

Now imagine that your places are switched and, walking behind him up the path, you see him trip. Guess what? He turns and curses the path. Your reaction? “Klutz!”

Now I’m oversimplifying a little to make the point, but one key thing is obvious for starters, and it’s this. Our perspective significantly alters the way we explain things. By the way, this little exercise comes from a bit of psychology called the Fundamental Attribution Error. In more lowbrow terms, a basic blame mistake. You, or the path? If I trip, I blame the path, but if you do, I blame you. See the mistake?

Attributions, where we lay the fault, cause, or blame for what’s happened, are at the root of how we understand why stuff happens. These develop into our Explanatory Style. So if we both trip over the crack, are we both clumsy?

So here’s the take home bit

Ok, this is enough to get you warmed up. And here’s your homework – be on the lookout for this error. Look for it in yourself and others. You’ll see it everywhere. Pay attention to the attributions you see. What, or who, is being blamed for why things happened? What trends can you see? We’ll build from this for next time.

Until then, comments and thoughts welcome.

Impressive words to drop into the morning coffee chat

Explanatory styles, Fundamental Attribution Error, Martin Seligman

What have you seen?

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About brendonbclark

Hi, I’m Brendon, but people usually call me B. I’ve a Masters degree in psychology, postgraduate qualification in mental health, and qualifications in counselling, professional supervision and adult education. I consult, speak and blog. Join me, you can subscribe for free.
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3 Responses to How to bulletproof your kids for life

  1. Cindy says:

    So, when you write “Your all-stars” but really mean “You are all-stars” or “You’re all-stars”, then whose fault is it – your teacher’s, your mother’s, your wife (who might have typed the article for you), or me for pointing it out. Sorry, couldn’t resist!

  2. Ha! I laughed and laughed. I didn’t mean you are all-stars. Maybe you are (!), but I didn’t mean that.

    It’s a name and definition. The team are those people who are your all-stars who are you kids and family. You too.

    The Team. Your all-stars. I think I’ll blame my mother.

  3. Pingback: What Bobby McFerrin knows about decision making and working memory | Bite sized brains

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