Raising A Resilient Child: 7 Strategies You Can Use Right Now
If you’ve been around kids for any length of time, you know that there are some universal truths: they all struggle at times, they are sometimes highly emotional for no discernable reason, and sometimes they achieve something monumental after a period of distress.
You’ve probably also noticed that some kids seem to roll with challenges a bit easier than their peers. Even kids within the same family, raised with the same basic structure, can have completely different styles of coping. The difference you see is, in part, a reflection of a child’s resilience.
What Is Resilience?
Resilience is the ability to positively adapt to adversity. It is being able to face and cope with challenging situations in healthy ways. While some level of resilience is thought to be genetic, research suggests that resilience is influenced by psychological, biological and environmental factors. In short, resiliency is something that can be built and strengthened over time.
Resilient people have a number of traits in common:
- Positive self-image
- Confidence in their abilities
- Good communication and problem-solving skills
- Ability to manage intense emotions and impulses
- Ability to make and carry out a plan
- These are all skills that can be learned.
Why Resilience Matters
Part of being a child is learning. Winning and losing. Failing and succeeding. Trial and error. This process of mastering tasks and solving problems is how we learn. This process lays the groundwork for future levels of coping. Each time a child achieves a new goal or masters a new task, their sense of autonomy and confidence grows. With each new achievement, they’re learning that they can cope. They know they can face a challenge and overcome it. Children high in resilience tend to see mistakes as learning opportunities rather than personal shortcomings: “The mistake happened. I am not the mistake.” Children with less optimal resilience often take errors personally, attributing the struggle to some personal deficit: “I failed because I am not smart.” Being able to separate themselves from the challenge allows kids to access those cognitive and executive functioning skills so necessary for learning and problem-solving. As they face and solve problems, their level of coping increases.
7 Tips for Nurturing Resilience
Studies show that one of the most powerful influences on resiliency is the presence of loving, healthy, and supportive relationships. These relationships extend to include both family and community supports. Relationships that provide love, positive role modeling, encouragement, and reassurance provide a support system in which a child can feel safe to take risks, try new things, and know they are supported regardless of the outcome. Do you know a child struggling to cope with challenges? Here are some steps you can take to encourage emotional growth and resilience:
Allow for trial and error. Protecting a child from failures or not allowing for “trial and error” deprives them of the opportunity to develop competence and mastery. When they miss the mark, support the effort they did make. Encourage them to try again. Avoid the urge to do it for them.
Foster Healthy Relationships. Parents, teachers, peers, pastors, coaches, any healthy role models and supports, can all contribute to a child’s support system. Having an engaged, compassionate adult to rely on, to offer guidance, consolation or congrats, fosters a child’s sense of security, safety, and belonging.
Strengthen Their Executive Functioning. Learning how to manage one’s feelings and actions take practice. Look for ways to help your child manage his or her daily tasks, goals and feelings in age-appropriate ways. Some things that can be especially helpful include daily schedules and routines (visual schedules work well for younger children), games or activities that encourage impulse control, recall, and decision-making. Offer opportunities to make some age-appropriate choices. The My Moods, My Choices Wheel of Choice Poster can help kids struggling with deciding what to do.
Encourage Asking for Help. It can be hard to ask for help! Children sometimes feel like they have to be strong and do it on their own. Let them know that even the strongest superheroes need help sometimes.
Support Their Emotional Intelligence. Dealing with challenges can evoke very intense, sometimes confusing feelings. Emotional Intelligence (also known as EQ) is the ability to recognize emotions and respond in appropriate ways. Controlling intense emotions can be especially hard for kids. The My Moods, My Choices Flipbook and Mood Bands can give kids a fun, constructive way to identify and deal with their feelings in positive ways.
Get Moving. Regular exercise is a great way to alleviate stress. When the body is in motion, powerful neurotransmitters are released that promote calmness. Depending on the activity, exercise can also help to develop a number of social and critical thinking skills. Movement can even be used in the classroom or other confined area. Sometimes just getting up and stretching or dancing in place can give the brain a much-needed break. Remember, lower stress means more capacity for the brain to make good choices.
Encourage Mindfulness and Optimism. Help kids focus on the present and see what can be. It’s easy to dwell on past mistakes and start a negative internal dialogue. Make time each day to practice gratitude. Set a daily intention. Find the nurturing practices that work for your child.
When considering resilience, the most important thing to remember is that every child has the capacity to be strong and resilient. When they know they can try and succeed, a whole new world opens up to them. You can open the door for them.
Written by: Dawn Ferrara LPC-S, LMFT Dawn Ferrara is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with over 20 years of experience working with children and families. She is also a mental health/wellness writer. Her practice is located in South Louisiana. Resources
- Herrman, H., Stewart, D. E., Diaz-Granados, N., Berger, E. L., Jackson, B., & Yuen, T. (2011). What is Resilience? The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 56(5), 258–265.
- The road to resilience. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx
- Brooks, R., & Goldstein, S. (2001). Raising Resilient Children. New York, NY: Contemporary.