Having resilience means having the ability to bounce back from stress, challenges, tragedy, trauma, or adversity and respond in a healthy and productive way. Some kids are able to easily work through tough times, yet some kids in their young lives have had more than their share of unwanted difficulties. When children are resilient, they are braver, more adaptable, more curious and better able to work through life's challenges. The good news is that resilience is something that can be taught and nurtured in children. So how do we teach our children to be resilient?
Increase their exposure to people that care about them. This can include family, teachers, coaches, neighbors, or anyone that gives your child positive emotional support. Kids won’t always notice the people who are in their corner cheering them on, so when you can, let them know. The more loving relationships they are around, the more opportunities they will have to develop and model coping skills.
Help children view mistakes and challenges as opportunities for learning. Making mistakes is not failing, and if it’s assumed that this is the case, then reframing needs to occur. As parents, we need to reframe challenges in ways that feel less threatening and will help the child to focus on what they have learned and accomplished. To build this skill, acknowledge their disappointment and then help them look at opportunities that it may have brought to them.
Let them know it’s ok to ask for help, but don’t rush to their rescue. Some children think being brave is about dealing with things on their own and not asking for help. 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 toward that - but resist carrying them there. Don’t pick them up every time they fall, even though it can be really tough as a parent to see your child struggle. The more exposure your child has to challenges, the better they will be able to deal with stress in adulthood.
Be the model for resilience. Kids learn by watching and imitating their parents. Let them see how you deal with disappointment, sadness and difficult times. When we normalized these for our kids, they will feel safe and secure to explore what those experiences mean for them and experiment with ways to respond.
Encourage them to take safe risks. Let them know the courage they show in doing something brave and difficult is more important than the outcome.
Nurture a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the underlying belief that abilities can be developed through effort and practice. Children with a growth mindset persist in the face of challenges because they understand that effort and hard work can change ability and intelligence. Parents can show their children they are excited by challenges (even if it’s scary) and encourage them to do the same. They can view mistakes as learning opportunities, discuss mistakes they’ve made, and speak about them to show that making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process. Parents can also discuss different strategies they’ve tried in a challenging situation.
Teach them the importance of self talk. Self talk is an important part of problem solving. It’s what the little voice in the head says to them. Your words are powerful because they are the foundation on which children build their own self-talk. Rather than solving their problems for them, start to give them the language to solve their own. Some ideas are: What would [someone they see as capable] do? What has worked before? How can we break this big problem into little pieces?
Becoming resilient is a skill that can be practiced, developed and nurtured throughout their lives. There is no simple answer to guarantee resilience in every situation, but we can help our children develop the ability to negotiate their own challenges and to be more resilient, more capable, and happier. They will make mistakes as we all do in life. It’s how they view the problem and knowing that they are loved unconditionally that can make a difference.