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Grow Strong Through Tough Times: Seven Principles of Adversity Training

It's hard to see my baby cry!

The first time our baby, Malinda, injured herself was when she fell on the edge of a coffee table. Malinda was just learning to stand. There was a slip and her poor little chin connected with unyielding wood. Malinda's triumphant smile disappeared and the wailing began. I was probably more distressed than she was.

It was hard to see my baby cry. It was hard to remember what Dr. Denmark said-- that children can learn and grow strong through tough times. Since my first baby's coffee table accident, I have learned seven principles of adversity training.

Hi, I’m Madia. I have eleven children and one of the greatest privileges of my life was to know Dr. Leila Denmark. She practiced pediatrics for over 75 years and was my mentor for 32 years.

I can hardly express how much she helped me, both with the children’s medical issues and family life challenges. I would love to share what she taught me with you.


Seven Principles of Adversity Training

1). Recognize a mother's first good instinct.

A mother’s first good instinct is to shield her child from hurt, to comfort, console, and protect. This instinct is absolutely essential to the well-being of children. Children need comfort and protection, especially when they are very young. They need protection from physical, emotional and spiritual danger. I am so baffled by mothers who are meticulously careful about physical safety issues, but seem perfectly willing to expose young children to intense, often frightening and inappropriate media.

2) Life is not perfect

We all need to accept the fact that life is full of disappointments, pain, and troubles and parents cannot completely shield their children. Also, it is through bumps and bruises that a toddler learns to walk and children learn to be cautious. We mature through hard times.

It takes wisdom on the part of parents to strike a good balance between protecting children, yet allowing them the leeway to learn from trouble. We must allow a toddler to practice walking, but not at the edge of a cliff. A teenager needs greater privileges as he gains maturity, but enough boundaries to help him stay on a good path while his judgement matures. The wise parent shields her child from harm, but allows him to grow through adversity and face it with courage.

3) Avoid unnecessary trouble

Actively teach your children to avoid unnecessary trouble. So much of the adversity we experience is a result of unwise or immoral decisions. As your children grow and mature, actively teach them that there are always consequences for those kinds of actions. Sometimes parents are too quick to shield their children from the natural consequences of bad choices. Those consequences may help with the maturing process.

4) Train early

“Adversity training” begins early: Susanna was terribly disappointed—the flu and fevers hit on Christmas Eve. John, the board game whiz, lost at chess three times in a row. Leila was so looking forward to the picnic, and it rained all weekend. Christina’s new kitten disappeared. Emily's carefully tended squash plant withered. In the scheme of life, these are minor troubles, but they loom larger in the mind of a child and provide great opportunities for adversity training.

A child who is easily discouraged or filled with self pity and bitterness when things go wrong needs encouragement, but also firm admonishment. If he learns cheerful resignation when minor trouble comes, he will be much more prepared to handle true tragedy. If he perseveres through minor obstacles, he will more likely be strong to tackle major obstacles in his life.

Dr. Denmark:

"We must let the child make some mistakes and see them fail. I remember how my own child decided to get rich quick. She fixed up a box on the front lawn, had our wonderful old cook make her a big pitcher of lemonade, got some cups out, took a chair, and sat in the hot sun waiting for someone to come along and buy, but nobody came. I kept watching and hoping someone would come and buy just one cup, but no one did. I felt the urge to go out and buy it all myself. She stayed out there a long time, then gathered up her equipment and came in. I did not say a word, for I knew she had many disappointments ahead of her and this was a good lesson to teach her how to meet the big ones to come... It is hard to sit by and see a child disappointed, but the earlier children learn they can’t have everything they think they want, the better it is. These lessons can be taught best by the child’s parents."

5) Parents provide a good example

The parent who has learned to handle adversity himself, by believing and acting on the promises in God’s Word, is the best teacher for his child in these circumstances. He can demonstrate proper responses through his own example.

6) Share hard times as a family

A child should not feel alone in his troubles. On one level, any individual problem becomes a family problem. Family members share a concern, offer help and prayers. It doesn't mean that a child or young adult shouldn't bear the consequences of unwise behavior or expenditures, but he needs to know that family members care about him.

7) Teach them to come up with creative solutions

Some adversity needs to be accepted and endured, but there are times when a creative solution could be the answer to a problem. Teach your children to be hopeful and creative in problem solving.

A wonderful quote: 'Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. The courage to keep trying is what counts.'"


From Madia:

True children of God can possess deep confidence that adversity (small or great) comes from the hand of a merciful, sovereign Father who can be trusted with our present and future. Whatever adversity we face has purpose. He can be trusted with our happiness. Actually, true happiness is not a product of ideal circumstances but “a by-product of a life lived daily in diligent pursuit of righteousness and the glory of God.

“Nurture patience, trust, prayerfulness, determination, strength, courage, and gratitude in the garden of your child’s heart. Pull the weeds of bitterness, self-pity, resentment, jealousy, anxiety, and an easily defeated spirit.”

From Dr. Denmark:

“Hardships don’t all come at one time; they are like the storms against an oak tree. Each storm makes the tree send down strong roots. One might say the tree was foolish to start out knowing it would be hit by storms thousands of times, but the little tree, like the teenager, takes the days as they come and grows with the hardships…. We [parents] must give them a true picture of what we felt and did at their age, how our lives have been, the pitfalls we encountered, and how we solved our problems. They [teenagers] must be talked to like adults and must learn how mature adults talk and act.

“We must show [our young adults] they must look to something greater than parents to hold them up. They must bring their problems to a God that gives life and strength to all who will use and develop the life they have in keeping with their talents and capabilities.”


For more tips on treating common childhood illnesses, read Dr. Denmark Said It!

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