Raising Resilient Children

We often hear the word Resilience when talking about the development of young children, but what does it really mean? When talking about teaching children resilience we talking about a child’s ability to cope with ups and downs, and bounce back from the challenges they experience during childhood.

For example, dealing with the stresses of COVID, moving home, changing schools, change in family situations, bullying, dealing with the sickness in the family, the death of a loved one or any other challenge they may face in their young lives.
All kids encounter stress of varying degrees as they grow. Despite their best efforts, parents can’t protect kids from all obstacles. But they can help to teach them how best to approach and deal when these obstacles arise.

Children will have different levels of resilience and different ways of responding to and recovering from stressful times. They will also have different ways of showing when the demands that are being put upon them outweigh their capacity to cope. They might become emotional, they might withdraw, or they might become defiant, angry or resentful. Of course, even the most resilient of warriors have days where it all gets too much, but low resilience will likely drive certain patterns of behaviour more often.

Resilience helps kids navigate these stressful situations. When kids have the skills and the confidence to confront and work through their problems, they learn that they have what it takes to confront difficult issues. The more they bounce back on their own, the more they internalise the message that they are strong and capable.

Resilient kids are more likely to take healthy risks because they don’t fear falling short of expectations. They are curious, brave, and trusting of their instincts. They know their limits and they push themselves to step outside of their comfort zones. This helps them reach for their long-term goals and it helps them solve problems independently.

There are many ways you as a parent can teach your child Resilience.

1. Teach your child to solve problems

Parents can help kids build resilience and confront uncertainty by teaching them to solve problems independently. While the gut reaction of the parent might be to jump in and help so that the child avoids dealing with discomfort, this actually weakens resilience. Kids need to experience discomfort so that they can learn to work through it and develop their own problem-solving skills. Without this skill-set in place, kids will experience anxiety and shut down in the face of difficult challenges.

Resist the Urge to Fix It and Ask Questions Instead
When kids come to parents to solve their problems, the natural response is to lecture or explain. A better strategy is to ask questions. By bouncing the problem back to the child with questions, the parent helps the child think through the issue and come up with solutions.

2. Build a Strong Emotional Connection

Research tells us that it’s not rugged self-reliance, determination or inner strength that leads kids through life’s challenges, but the reliable presence of at least one supportive relationship. In the context of a loving relationship with a caring adult, children have the opportunity to develop vital coping skills. The presence of a responsive adult can also help to reverse the physiological changes that are activated by stress.

Spend one-on-one time with your kids: Kids develop coping skills within the context of caring relationships, so it’s important to spend one-on-one time with them. This means you need to put down the phone and focus on your child. When kids know they have the unconditional support of a parent, family member, or even a teacher, they feel empowered to seek guidance and make attempts to work through difficult situations. Positive connections allow adults to model coping and problem-solving skills to children.

3. Let them know that it’s okay to ask for help.

Children will often have the idea that being brave is about dealing with things by themselves. Let them know that being brave and strong means knowing when to ask for help. If there is anything they can do themselves, guide them towards that but resist stepping in and doing it for them.

4. Label Emotions

When stress kicks in, emotions run hot. Teach your kids that all feelings are important and that labelling their feelings can help them make sense of what they’re experiencing. Tell them it’s okay to feel anxious, sad, jealous, etc. and reassure them that bad feelings usually pass.

5. Embrace Mistakes—Theirs and Yours

Failure avoiders lack resilience. In fact, failure avoiders tend to be highly anxious kids. When parents focus on end results, kids get caught up in the pass/fail cycle. They either succeed or they don’t. This causes risk avoidance. Embracing mistakes (your own included) helps promote a growth mindset and gives kids the message that mistakes help them learn. It can be helpful to talk about a mistake you made and how you recovered from it.

6. Model Resiliency

The best way to teach resilience is to model it. We all encounter stressful situations. Use coping and calming strategies. Deep breathing can be an effective way to work through stress. Always label your emotions and talk through your problem-solving process.

7. Promote Healthy Risk-Taking

In a world where playgrounds are made “safe” with bouncy floor materials and helicopter parenting, it’s important to encourage kids to take healthy risks. What’s a healthy risk? Something that pushes a child to go outside of their comfort zone, but results in very little harm if they are unsuccessful. Examples include trying a new sport, participating in the school play, or striking up a conversation with a shy peer. When kids avoid risk, they internalize the message that they aren’t strong enough to handle challenges. When kids embrace risks, they learn to push themselves.

8. Exercise

Exercise helps strengthen the brain and make it more resilient to stress and adversity. While team sports are the most popular method of consistent exercise for kids, all kids really need is time spent outdoors engaging in a physical activity. If team sports don’t appeal to your child, encourage them or introduce them to bicycling, playing tag, or even just swinging at the playground. These are all great ways for kids to engage in free play that also builds resilience.

Resilience helps kids navigate the obstacles they encounter as they grow. It’s not possible to avoid stress, but being resilient is one of the best ways to cope with it; and any other challenges life throws as you and your kids.

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