*Thank you to Alexandra Eidens for this guest post about how to build your child’s resilience.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity, challenges, and failures. It’s necessary for everything from small problems, like losing a toy, to facing more serious stressors like divorce and bullying.
Resilient children are braver, more curious, and more likely to take healthy risks. They are also not born this way–resilience is a skill that can be nurtured.
According to the American Psychological Association, the percentage of young people experiencing mental health issues has risen sharply over the last decade. More than ever, children need these skills.
Here are seven simple ways to build your child’s resilience, and help them bounce back from adversities big and small:
7 ways to build your child’s resilience
1. Facilitate friendships
Learning to establish friendships is a crucial part of development. While some children are naturally friendly and outgoing, many others require direct instruction on how to make (and keep) friends.
As children age and develop, helping them find their “tribe” is essential. Talk with your child about the qualities she wants in a friend, and help make connections with peers who embody those characteristics.
Many children need practice in engaging others, so role-playing scenarios like inviting a peer to play, resolving minor conflict, or sharing toys is another helpful strategy.
2. Engage in helping others
There are many ways to support children in valuing and serving others. And many of them begin at home.
Provide your child with opportunities to help around the house–setting the table, making the bed, or measuring ingredients for dinner are good places to start. Praise your child for their efforts in supporting the family, and try hard not to correct or re-do or their job.
In school, talk about ways your child can be of help to others. It can be as easy as lending a pencil to a classmate or helping a teacher carry a book or two. Small acts of kindness like these instill the joy of contributing.
On a bigger scale, consider bringing them to your community outreach program to help out plant a tree or tackle a service project together. Discuss the issues or dreams your child feels passionate about, and help them identify projects that could use their skills!
3. Give undivided attention
On a regular basis, work to make time for just you and your child. The healthy, positive relationship that results is key to their resilience.
When possible, carve out a daily 10-15 minute period to focus solely on your child. If this isn’t feasible, plan a weekly date for just the two of you. It could be a daddy-and-daughter or mommy-and-son date.
This dedicated time to play or do activity is proven to reduce whining, negative behaviors, and other types of negative attention-seeking. Be sure to avoid electronics or other distractions during this special time.
4. Encourage them to experiment
When children know their brains can learn and grow from trying new things, they are more likely to take healthy risks. Talk about the idea of a growth mindset—how our brains grow and change from facing challenges.
Share moments when you have stepped outside of your comfort zone, and what it was like for you. Discuss the process of learning something new—while it may feel uncomfortable or even scary at first, these experiences build the foundation for resiliency.
Many children are naturally curious and love to explore–this is the perfect time to encourage trying new things.
5. Build their sense of mastery
Mastery is the feeling that comes from competence. When a child believes she can accomplish what she sets out to do, a healthy sense of self develops.
Mastery is built, in part, by observing others. If a child sees his friend cross the monkey bars without help after several tries, he sees it is possible. Provide opportunities for your child to notice peers in these moments, emphasizing the effort it took to succeed.
We can also support mastery by giving specific feedback based on our observations. For example, praising your child for mastering an art technique rather than saying, “You were born an artist!”
6. Help them manage worries
All children have moments of anxiety and fear. But they may not know it’s normal, which only adds to their worries.
In difficult moments, start by telling your child that everyone has moments of worry or thoughts that bother them. You may even share a time when you felt worried about something, and what you did to overcome it.
Share some simple affirmations or phrases such as “I can handle this!” or “I’m bigger than my fears” to help. Studies have shown that when positive thoughts are repeated (aloud or silently) at least three times, children believe them more.
Children can also identify where in their bodies the worry resides–the stomach or chest are common spots. Explain that they can hold these parts of their body when worried, repeating their helpful phrases.
7. Allow them to struggle
Resilience is not built by avoiding failure and difficulty. When parents remove opportunities to struggle with something, children learn they need to be rescued.
When a child is facing difficulty, see it as an opportunity to practice bouncing back. Give your child time and space to identify the issue at hand. Be there to guide and support, while not removing the issue entirely.
Also, consider placing these fun printables for kids, packed with encouraging words, on bedroom walls or high-traffic areas in the home to help in these moments.
Resilience is a crucial skill to weather the ups and downs of life. When parents provide opportunities for their children to learn and grow from adversity, greater resiliency develops.
About the Author
Alexandra Eidens is the founder of Big Life Journal, an engaging resource to help kids develop a resilient growth mindset so they can face life’s challenges with confidence.