How to Raise Resilient Children

As a parent, caregiver, teacher, coach, or other adult influence in a child’s life, one of the primary lessons that are modeled everyday is how to deal with stress and life challenges. It is no secret that life is filled with its fair share of adversity, negative experiences, failures, and injustices, even in the life of a child. Children watch and learn from the adults around them how to respond to such experiences. This, in turn, impacts how they themselves cope with and respond to stress, perceived failures, and life obstacles.
The demands and expectations placed on children can be overwhelming. They can have a lot on their plates even at a young age: full weekly schedules, intense homework loads, extracurricular activities, managing bullying, expectations to perform/be the best, and social/family obligations or stressors. These stressors can often mirror those of an adult’s life. The way children learn how to manage stress and adversity is crucial to their brain development, self-esteem, and overall mental/physical health. The child brain is still developing the internal coping skills, mindset, and resiliency needed to thrive in today’s busy, demanding, and imperfect world.

Resiliency can be defined as the ability to overcome challenges and persevere through stress, misfortune, and adversity. It is the ability to not only get through or bounce back from a stressful or adverse experience, but to actually learn and grow from that negative experience in order to build internal strength and coping resources. Raising a resilient child will allow that child to take more risks in life which can lead to infinite opportunities for growth, learning, and self-confidence. Modeling and shaping a resilient mindset (e.g., “I can handle and learn from whatever life throws at me”) promotes an increased sense of self-esteem and competency to deal with adversity. It is the antithesis to mindset that often lead to anxiety, depression, and low self-confidence (e.g., “I can’t handle this, it’s too hard”).
So how can you model and teach the children in your life to be more resilient in the face of stress or adversity? Here are 3 ways you can help your child build skills, strength, and confidence that will serve them for a lifetime:

  1. Failure/Adversity Talk: In order to model adaptive and resilient ways to deal with adversity, try to normalize the reality that all human beings encounter stress, disappointments, mistakes/failures, and misfortune in their lives. Talk to your children about some of your age-appropriate adverse experiences, such as not getting the job you interviewed for or that fender bender you got into on the way home. Keep in mind the importance of using a resilient mindset when sharing your experience with them.

 For example, “I hit someone’s car today on the way home. It was a scary and frustrating moment because it was my fault and I caused some damage. I worked really hard to stay calm and not get upset at myself because I know it was an accident, and accidents happen sometimes. I realized that staying calm really helped me figure out how to work through the situation. I’m glad that nobody got hurt, and that cars are fixable, so I know everything will be okay. I learned that I need to pay better attention on the road and drive slower to make sure that I am driving safely. But I am also very proud of myself for the way I handled this unexpected and stressful experience.”

  1. Encourage and Praise Risk Taking: To reinforce internal strength building and the ability to handle difficult situations and/or disappointment, try to emphasize the importance of demonstrating bravery and courage in all that your child does. Praise your child’s effort in taking a risk or facing a challenge head on, as opposed to focusing on the outcome. Encourage your child to try new age-appropriate things or to do things that scare them. These are the experiences that often lead to the most growth in bravery, confidence, and competency.

For example, “I appreciate how brave you were for volunteering to do a math problem in front of your whole class today. Even though you were frustrated and embarrassed that you got the answer wrong, which happens to all of us sometimes, by trying your best and putting yourself out there it really shows how strong and courageous you are. I am so proud of you for taking a chance and trying your best!”

  1. Allow Children to Struggle: This might sound counterintuitive or insensitive at first glance. However, for children to really learn how to cope and grow from adverse experiences they need to be allowed opportunities to experience those stressors without being immediately saved by an adult. This is how they will develop internal resources to manage future stressors, resulting in a confident and capable adult later in life. Don’t be afraid to allow your child to struggle with a challenge or difficult experience that you know they can handle. You don’t have to abandon them in their time of struggle, remind them that you know they can handle the situation even though it is hard/painful/stressful and that they are fully capable of managing the situation. Also try to use these experiences as opportunities to develop their problem-solving skills by asking them questions vs. giving them solutions:
  • “What would you tell your best friend/brother/sister to do in this situation?”
  • “What have you done that has been helpful before?”
  • “What can you do to calm your mind and body right now?”
  • “What would [a trusted, respected, and relevant person like a teacher or coach] tell you to do in this situation?”