You know her best as the lady behind Lean In, but in 2015, Sheryl Sandberg experienced an earth-shattering event: the sudden death of her husband, Dave. To navigate her family’s grief, she consulted her friend Adam Grant, a Wharton psychologist, for tips on how to help her kids build resiliency, especially when times feel bleak. She shares the results in her latest book, Option B. Here, six of her biggest lessons learned.
How to Raise More Resilient Kids, According to Sheryl Sandberg
Remind Them That What Happened Wasn’t Their Fault
When something bad happens—big or small—it’s easy for kids (and frankly, adults) to internalize the negative event as something they’re responsible for. (In Sheryl’s case, she found it all too easy to react by blaming herself for her husband’s death and wishing she could have reached him sooner to save him somehow.) Kids can do the same, so it’s up to the grown-ups in their life to remind them not to personalize what happened or—worse—apologize for it or any emotions connected to it.
Then, Get Them Back Into Their Routine
It can feel counterintuitive, but the quicker your kids can resume their normal schedule, the better. According to Sheryl—and the child psychologists she consulted for this book—participating in normal activities doesn’t erase the sadness, but it helps people feel more like themselves. It’s also a distraction. (Per Sheryl, “In my first meeting [on her first day back at Facebook], I was drawn into a discussion and for a second—maybe half a second—I forgot about death.”)
Teach Them How To Express Daily Gratitude
This was something that became another ritual for Sandberg and her kids in the aftermath of her husband’s death. According to her, with the help of her husband, her family used to take turns at the dinner table sharing the best and worst parts of their day. When he passed away, she added a new category: She and her kids had to share something they were grateful for. Acknowledging blessings can help temper sadness, she explains.
But Validate All Feelings (not Just The Happy Ones)
With coaching from Adam, Sheryl talks a lot in her book about “leaning into the suck.” Basically, it’s the idea that it’s a vicious circle to beat yourself up for still feeling sad or anxious or for not moving on quickly enough when something bad happens. Sheryl made a point to remind her kids of this, too. She even posted a list of “family rules” with rule number one being: “Respect your feelings.” The goal was to teach them that “sadness might come over them at awkward times, like during school, and that when it did, they could take a break,” she explains.
Most Importantly, Don’t Ignore The Past
One of Sheryl’s biggest fears was that her kids were young enough that they would start to forget about Dave. Her solution? She had his friends and colleagues record videos in which they share memories of him. She also had her kids record their memories, too, and encourages them to talk about him openly at home. According to Sheryl, kids with a strong understanding of their history have better coping skills and a stronger sense of belonging. And talking freely about memories—even difficult ones—can help them feel connected to something bigger than themselves.