How to Talk to Kids about Thriving in an Uncertain World

This podcast focuses on how to help kids thrive in an uncertain world. Have you ever noticed that even when all the odds are stacked against some kids, somehow certain kids rise above and thrive? These kids are the thrivers! They have skills, traits and practices that allow them to shine while others struggle. What are their secrets? We discuss them in today’s podcast with author, Dr. Michele Borba.

Special guest: Michele Borba, Ed.D

Are you finding that kids these days are “running on empty?” While there is no lack of high-achieving kids that are arguably more accomplished, better educated, and more privileged than ever before, they also seem to be more stressed, unhappier, and struggling. We have heard in numerous podcast episodes with top experts that kids are suffering from anxiety, depression, and burnout at younger and younger ages. My next guest says that thrivers are different though: they flourish in our fast-paced, digital-driven, often uncertain world. Why? It turns out that they’ve aced the traits that set them on a happy, healthy, high performing path–confidence, empathy, self-control, integrity, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism. These traits will allow kids to roll with the punches and succeed in life. How? For that we will turn to my friend and colleague, Dr. Michele Borba.

Michele Borba, Ed.D is an internationally renowned educator, award-winning author, and parenting child expert recognized for her solution-based strategies to strengthen children’s and social-emotional intelligence and character and reduce peer cruelty. A sought-after motivational speaker, she has spoken on 19 countries in five continents, and served as a consultant to hundreds of schools and corporations. Dr. Borba is an NBC contributor who has appeared 150 times on the TODAY show and countless oher shows. She is the award-winning author of 24 books translated into 19 languages including 2 that we’ve already interviewed her about on the show–  End Peer CrueltyBuild Empathy, and UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. Her newest book, Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine is out this week and we are so excited to have one of her very first interviews on this book!

Important Messages:

  • Longitudinal studies showing that despite adversities, some kids were thriving and others were not—1/3 of them were thriving! Why?
  • The kids have astutely relayed to you that their lives are crammed, they have to be picture-perfect, they feel rushed and passionless and lost. They are striving but they are not thriving. What might happen? Smart kids- well loved- great opportunities- felt like they were running on empty. Parenting kids for GPA, test score and rank- missing the skills to do well in life.
  • Kids feeling like products.
  • Look at longitudinal studies- #1 time to stop working on talents is at age 13. Gain purpose. But they don’t have enough time to work on their strengths and passions! Take a look at your kid- what do they gravitate towards? Natural talent and strengths. Who is your kid? That gives them the substance to help them know “this is who I am.”
  • Our best toolkit is figuring out who our child is and letting them draw us down their path. Have the conversations! Ask them questions. What do you see yourself becoming? What do you like about X? Helps us see the passion- and allow kids more time to explore and hone skills. Helps kids to bounce back. Decompress, relax, feel good. Lasts their lives. Many don’t feel they have time for hobbies! (Family hobbies? Start there.)
  • Notations- who your child is.
  • Connection between strengths and passions. Exercise: Define strengths. Draw me a picture/write this sentence. Now do it with the other hand. “How did it feel? Strengths- easy, feels natural, automatic, feels strong. That’s what a strength is!” The weaker- causes more stress, harder to do, doesn’t mean we’ll stop working on it- but good to know what real strengths are! Let’s keep stretching in that direction.
  • Acknowledge strength: “It really looks like you enjoy cello because I see you spending more time on it. Even when you have some difficulty, you stick with it. That’s a strength area for you!”
  • How can we develop this strength further? Need a mentor?
  • University of Chicago- the passion can indicate a vocation.
  • Strength-based language- Adam Grant- call it by a noun not a verb. Character strengths. Kind and respectful—instead I see you are a helper rather than just “you like to help.” Also use “because” “I see you are respectful Because you are…”
  • Empathy- we need to “let our kids know that they’re loved and cherished but not better, superior or worthier than another.” Empathy seems to be highest correlation with positive mental health. Kids are good at the digital- but they are looking down not up.
  • We need to stress “we” not “me.” Talk about feelings. Speak out loud. Give permission to share their feelings. Help them notice other people’s feelings. We do this far better with our daughters than our sons- need both.
  • Help your child look for the signs of emotion. “Notice when Grandma’s voice starts to get quieter and she seems a little more tired so you know when to get off the phone.”
  • Watch the movies and shows that talk about emotions. Inside Out. Charlette’s Web. Do it with your child. “What would you do if that happens to you?” Show them empathy matters.
  • Zoom playdates. Read alouds with friends. Watch who you are exposing your child to- we are more likely to empathize with those “like us.” Age, gender, race, economic background, etc. Expose to diversity.
  • Can’t think when you are hurt. Help: Ask 2 questions: (1) How would you feel if that happened to you? (2) What would you need in order to feel better? Martin Hoffman. Think of other point of view.
  • CALM: (1) Stay Calm: When you are hurt, you can’t make good decisions. (2) Practice assertive come-back lines “Why did you do that?” “That really hurt my feelings. (3) L: Look the person in the eye when you say it. Look confident! (4) M: Voice like you mean it. “Stop it! That hurts. I don’t like that.”
  • Self control: Our mistake is waiting until the trigger comes. Waiting for the meltdown. “What are the signs that are telling you that you are starting to get more irritable?” “Look at Daddy, he’s taking his deep breath!” “Mommy’s feet are moving quicker!” “Little Johnny’s hands are in fists, he looks like he’s getting more irritable!” Take time to identify these signs. How do kids know when YOU are getting upset? You can give a signal.
  • STORY: Michael Phelps. Got energy out in swimming pool. Mom came up with signal. She turned her hand into a C which meant “calm down.”
  • Calm down corner. What makes them feel calm? Anyone can use it. Sheet over table. Music. Ban bag chair. Bubbles. Stuffed animal. (1) Signal (2) Calm down corner Back in sync. Invite your child to come up with what they need.
  • Some need physical, some need music, some need sensory. Different kids need different things. Give repertoire of stuff! Until they can figure out what works for them- then help them to practice. So they can do it in the heat of the moment when the parent isn’t there.
  • Integrity- friendship, money, achievement in school. Buy into the fact is that integrity is one of the highest correlations to resilience. Strong moral code, reduces stress. Talking about integrity not as important as modeling it. What really matters in your house?
  • FAST FORWARD TO 40: What are the values I want to see in him or her then? What am I going to do in the current moments?
  • When I was 6- marking pens- what kind of family we want to be and how we want to be remembered, how described as a family. Write down all the words. We can’t be them all- so pick one. “The Caring Perlins.” Part 2- how did you remember? It’s impossible not to remember. Remember we’re the caring perlins! Was that a caring perlin kind of an act? Is that what a caring perlin would do? Need to know the value and the reason.
  • Gains and turn-around plans instead of failures. When a child sees a failure and thinks, “so what am I going to do next time?” he’s more likely to thrive.”
  • Make mistakes okay in the family. Be open about your mistakes. “I blew that recipe. Next time I’ll…”
  • Then use that language next time- turn around plans. Keep making steady gains towards your goal- it’s not the goal all at once. That’s what success is- a four letter word spelled GAIN.
  • “The little stumbler”- practice that one little piece- then you can have a turn-around plan. Failure seems so final. Change language.
  • Protective buffers are part of a thriver.
  • If we keep modeling resilience, the more they will see it and do it.
  • Say “I got this” your voice becomes their inner voice.
  • We have endured an unprecedented time- it’s an uncertain world- rethink what we need to do to raise our kids during this uncertain time.

Notable Quotables:

      • “Thriving kids are made, not born.”
      • “We’re parenting kids for GPA, test score and the rank. We’re not going to stop helping kids do well in the classroom but we need the well-rounded kid who doesn’t only do well in school but in life.”
      • “We need to help our kids feel a sense of ‘this is who I am.’ That is what’s going to give them the thriver’s sense of ‘I got this’ because you are going with their strengths not their weakness.”
      • “Our best toolkit is figuring out who our child is and letting them draw us down their path.”
      • “Take a moment to take an index card notation on who your child is—that who is going to help you direct your child’s path for the rest of their life.”
      • “Kids keep saying they are really good at the digital- but they are looking down, not up, and they don’t know how to read each other.”
      • “Give your children in your own home permission to share their feelings.”
      • “Ask your child these 2 questions: (1) How would you feel if that happened to you? and (2) What would you need in order to feel better? It will help your child think of other person’s point of view.”
      • “FAST FORWARD TO 40: What are the values I want to see in him or her then?” 
      • “When a child sees a failure and thinks, ‘so what am I going to do next time?’ he’s more likely to thrive.”
      • A thriver is the kid who says; “I got this” and “I can do it.”
      • “The most important thing that parents and teachers can do to help kids thrive is be resilient yourself.”


Social Media for Dr. Robyn: