The Anti-Fragile Kid
Most of us have a fairly good understanding of the term ‘fragile’ – something that is easily broken when stress (also known as volatility, chaos or disorder) is applied to it. Glass or a china tea cup are often offered as examples.
When we think of the opposite of fragile the two most common suggestions are usually ‘robust’ or ‘resilient’.
While these terms are in the right direction they are not really the opposite of fragile. Robust/resilient means they aren’t ‘easily’ broken but they will break with enough stress.
Nassim Taleb proposes ‘anti-fragile’ is the opposite of fragile.
Anti-fragility occurs when stress increases the strength of the subject.
Wait, what??? Isn’t stress bad? What gets stronger with stress?
In fact, my income is mostly based on the fact that humans are anti-fragile: I apply a stress (often with a barbell, dumbbell or medicine ball) to an athlete and when they return a few days later they’re stronger and I apply an even greater stress.
So what does this have to do with being a Parent of a young Athlete? Why are we discussing this on a Athletic Preparation website?
Simple. Many of our (remember, I am a Parent too) well-intentioned actions, that come from a place of love, are making our kids increasingly fragile:
- We wake them up for morning training (and then check on them if they’re not up after a few minutes).
- We pack their bags (and rush to school if they left something behind)
- We buy, prepare and cook all their meals for them.
- We tidy up after them.
- We speak to the Coach after they’ve been dropped and demand they be re-selected.
- We drop them off, and pick them up, right in front of the school/training gates and we’re stressed if we’re a few minutes late (can’t have them waiting around!).
Each of the examples above will expose the fragility of our kids when a stress is applied.
The stressor may be we’re running late because a work meeting went over time… Or the another sibling is sick and we have to stay at home with them… Or the car is getting serviced… Or traffic is bad… Or life just gets in the way.
The key is to recognise the potential for these problems and to slide our kid from the Fragile end of the continuum, through Robust/Resilient to Anti-Fragile.
For example, if we’re running late to pick them up from training:
- a Fragile kid: Meltdown, tears, didn’t know what to do.
- a Robust kid: Went back to the club house and sat in a well- lit area with the Coach.
- an Anti-Fragile kid: Found a safe area to do their homework.
See how the anti-fragile kid comes out better for the experience? The stressor (you being late) has strengthened them (they’ve finished their homework).
Following, we’re going to explore shifting our kids along the continuum in four distinct domains:
- Chores (around the house)
The response of your child to you being late or unable to pick them up from training is obviously age-dependent, so below are some suggestions that might be applicable to your situation to improve your child’s anti-fragility.
- Contact details – Children should know their Parents mobile numbers. Until you’re confident in their memory skills, a laminated business card with phone number which is easily accessible should be in the school and sport bags.
- Home address – Teach them the address and some landmarks they may use to help a trusted friend drive them home.
- Safe places – Identify somewhere safe they should wait if you’re late. Give them a task (e.g. finish your homework).
- Money – Each of their bags should have a few bucks that can help them pay for a taxi, uber or public transport.
- Bike skills – It may start off with you riding with them on the way to training and then on the way back. Make sure they have opportunities to lead you home (not just follow). They might not always have to take their bikes but it give them another option.
- Public transport – On an uneventful day (e.g. Sunday), take public transport to and from training with them. Make sure they buy the tickets/card, etc. Even doing this once will build their confidence.
- Friendly rides – Identify which Parents/Coaches they may ask for a ride back to home.
How does your child respond during when they’re hungry and you’re not available to provide food for them?
- a Fragile kid: Goes hungry, or worse, goes to McDonalds.
- a Robust kid: Has a healthy snack (biltong, nuts, etc.)
- an Anti-Fragile kid: Prepares dinner for the family.
They don’t have to be able to create a 3 course, 5-star meal; they just need to be able sustain themselves. Some basic shopping, preparing and cooking skills can go a long way in building independence.
- Take them shopping – Of course, shopping with kids will often double the time it takes to do the job but it needs to be done. Send them on small tasks (e.g. ‘get the milk’) so they’re at least get an understanding of the lay out of a typical supermarket.
- Get them to unpack – Learning which foods should go in the fridge (almost all over them!) and which go into the pantry is part of the process.
- Involve them in the prep – Very young? Ask them to wash the veggies. Older? Get them to chop the onions. Early teen? They’re in charge of the salad. Late teen? Thursday nights they’re in charge of the whole meal.
- Family BBQ – Firstly, it’s outside so there’s less mess. Secondly, it’s hard to stuff up, so giving them the task of cooking the meat is a great way to build their confidence.
- Teach them to cook – Some essentials kids should start off with:
- Eggs (highly nutritious, can be prepared multiple ways and are delicious);
- Mince and Veggies (melt butter, add garlic and onions, add mince meat, add frozen veggies and maybe a sauce);
- Stir Fry (similar to previous);
- Smoothie (make sure this doesn’t just become a sugar hit).
Often we use the excuse our kids are so busy that it’s unfair to add more work to their daily schedule yet we are probably robbing them of opportunity to learn to contribute to society, build self discipline and responsibility.
The key here is to start small and build gradually.
Some basic chores every child should be completing is:
- Keep their room tidy (Start every day making their bed – awesome 6min video).
- Contribute to the household.
- A Chore Board. A visible board (e.g. on the fridge) with everyone’s duties that can be ticked off each day/week.
- Share them. Divide the chores amongst the family and have a (weekly?) rotation. This way, no one is stuck with the worst one(s) for too long.
- All in. Rewards or fun activities can only be done when ALL siblings have done ALL chores. Eliminate yourself as the ‘bad person’ and use ‘positive’ peer pressure to get the results you want.
The easiest way to ensure your kid is fragile is to eliminate the consequences to their actions.
- When they get bad grades due to lack of study, do you meet with the Department Head and blame the teacher?
- When they’re dropped from the team, do you tell your kid it’s ‘all politics’?
- When they’ve left their PE clothes at home, do you drop everything you’ve planned and rush to get it to them?
Each time we perform similar actions to the ones listed above we’re making our kids increasingly fragile.
Eventually they’ll be in a place where you (the sports agent, manager or Coach) can’t remove the consequence and that’s where their fragility will be exposed. And chances are, it’ll be too late.
So start introducing consequences as soon as possible into their lives. Start when the consequences are ‘inconsequential’.
- When they’ve slept through their alarm clock? They can buy a second one.
- When they forget their tennis racquet? They can pick up balls for the session.
- When their grades drop? There’s less socialising for the next few weeks.
In the big scheme of things these consequences are nothing but little lessons that our actions (or inactions) matter. They’ll teach ownership and help keep our kids grounded.
No one wants their child to be fragile; yet there is a real possibility that we unintentionally cause this very thing.
Life is full of stress, chaos, disorder and volatility. We can either protect our kids from this for as long as possible (and probably feel good about ourselves) and accept they’ll be fragile in the long-term.
Or, we can prepare them for life.
One key thing to remember is your child isn’t a swimmer, BMXer, tennis player or athlete… They are a person who should grow into a valuable member of society.
That’s the long-term view and should help us keep perspective.