While serving as a member of the Quorum of the Seventy, Elder Steven E. Snow once asked, “How do we turn adversity into a stepping-stone and not a stumbling block? How can we make a bad experience become a learning experience?”1
Good question. When adversity strikes, as it inevitably will, it’s easy to focus on the hardship itself rather than on what we can learn from it. Looking at adversity as a learning experience can be especially hard for children, who have limited experience dealing with difficult situations.
Here are some ways we can help our children see hard moments as “stepping-stone” experiences—chances to learn, grow, and come closer to our Father in Heaven.
Watch and Learn
When a child is confronted with a difficult situation, it can be tempting to rush in and take care of our children’s problems for them. But take the time to really watch over your children. Watching over those we teach is an eternal principle (see Doctrine and Covenants 20:42 and 46:27). As you watch over your children, learn how they react to challenging situations. Try to understand the way they think and feel. Remember that they probably don’t respond to trials the same way you do—for example, you might face an obstacle head-on and quickly, while your child takes longer to think about the situation.
When you understand your children’s response to obstacles, you will have a better idea of how, when, and if (see “Struggling: It Can Be a Good Thing,” below) you should help them.
Be an (Im)perfect Example
Kids watch adults. They see Mom throw a flawless pitch in a softball game, Dad solve math equations with ease, and Grandpa speak confidently to a crowd. They might think Mom, Dad, or Grandpa never struggled to do something hard.
Of course, that’s not true. That flawless pitch? Mom threw hundreds of lousy ones first. The tough math equation? Dad once failed a math test. The inspiring talk in church? Grandpa used to be terrified of public speaking.
We all worked hard to get where we are today. Telling your children about your struggles can help them realize they are not alone in their challenges. Talk with your child about how you’ve pushed through hardships in your life. Share family stories of struggle and success. In fact, research shows that sharing family stories can help children to become more resilient.2
This is not to say that we should automatically tell our children about every struggle we’ve had, particularly concerning serious transgressions for which you have fully repented. Listen to the Holy Ghost, and you can know what to share. And when we do share experiences, we should discuss our struggles in a way that is uplifting and testimony-building.
Consider Alma the Younger. He could have hidden his youthful struggles from his children—but he didn’t. Rather, he wisely used his experience to teach his children the importance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ (see Alma 42). And Alma’s experience didn’t just inspire his children; today, Alma’s testimony of the Savior’s Atonement stands as one of the greatest witnesses in the scriptures of Jesus Christ’s redeeming power.
Struggling: It Can Be a Good Thing
Yes, it might be heartbreaking to see our children struggle, and it’s natural for parents to want to protect their child from disappointment and suffering. But struggling with a stressful situation can actually be positive for children. It can help them gain confidence, independence, and coping skills.
That doesn’t mean you have to sit silently on the sidelines. Be your children’s loudest cheerleader! Support them in their challenges. Let them know you have confidence in their knowledge and problem-solving skills.
Most importantly, as our children work through obstacles in their lives, teach them the importance of having faith—faith in themselves and their abilities, and faith in God that He will bless, strengthen, and comfort them as they face life’s challenges.
For example, when Nephi was sent to obtain the brass plates, his father, Lehi, didn’t tell him how to retrieve them. Instead, Lehi gave Nephi encouragement, testifying that the Lord had commanded them to get the brass plates and that Nephi would be blessed (see 1 Nephi 3:5-6). Later, when Nephi faced intense opposition, he reminded Laman and Lemuel that it was the Lord that had commanded them to get the plates, as their father had testified (see 1 Nephi 4:1-3). Nephi persevered, and his experience getting the plates, though extremely difficult, taught him how to follow the Spirit.
Learning to look at adversity as a stepping-stone rather than a stumbling block takes time. It’s something that we will all work on throughout our lives, so don’t expect your kids to have a perfect attitude right away. Do your best, lead by example, and the Lord will help you in your efforts.
Try these “stepping-stone” suggestions when your children face obstacles:
- Pray. Pray with your children. Ask Heavenly Father to bless them with comfort and the confidence to overcome their struggles. Encourage your children to pray about it on their own.
- Write down a plan. Identify the obstacle, the end goal, and steps for working through the problem. Work with your children to identify what they feel they can do on their own and what they need help with.
- Take a break. Come up with some ways your children can manage stress in a healthy way. They could take a walk, listen to music, play a game, or take a nap.
- Check in. Schedule a regular day or time for a face-to-face conversation with your children about how they’re doing and whether they think any adjustments should be made. Make sure they know you love and support them.