You’ve seen resilient children: the ones who fall down and get back up. The ones who try something, fail, and try again. Resilient kids are problem-solvers. They face the future with confidence and hold onto hope when things get tough.
Would you like to raise your child to be resilient too?
Raising a resilient child involves three key steps: Support, Teach, and Launch. Let’s see how you can take those steps.
Support: The Root of Your Child’s Resilience
Build strong emotional connections.
In the same way a healthy plant requires a strong root system, your child’s resilience begins with strong emotional connections to people who love her. You can give her those roots by expressing care for her, giving her your full attention, and being consistently dependable. Growing up with your love, she will feel equipped to stand up to the wind and weather.
By contrast, kids who lack loving connections with the adults in their lives are like plants without deep roots. A little trouble comes along, and they fear they will never recover.
Know what your child is capable of.
Some parents, on the other hand, are too hands-off. Their children are left alone to face bigger difficulties or risks than they can reasonably be expected to handle. Wise parents, like good gardeners, don’t expose their young ones to challenging conditions they’re not old enough to handle. (Check out our Watch Me Grow posts on Child Development to learn more about what your young child is ready for.)
Some level of difficulty in life is unavoidable and necessary for a child to grow. But when a child knows she has loving adults to support her through those difficulties, she will feel more confident and courageous.
Teach: Kids Can Learn Resilience
The best teacher is the one a child lives with. She will watch how you handle your own day-to-day challenges, hurts, and disappointments and want to do the same. For example:
- When Mom gets an “owie,” she may cry (expressing valid feelings), but then she talks about what she will do next: “I need a BandAid” (getting needed help) and “Next time I had better watch where I walk” (problem-solving).
- When Dad is frustrated that something went wrong, he labels his emotions and chooses a positive response: “I feel angry right now. I think I’d better take a walk outside to calm down.”
Teach your child about emotions.
Powerful emotions can feel frightening to small children. Your job in raising a resilient child is to help her recognize, understand and manage her emotions.
- Label emotions. When you calmly say things like, “It sounds like you feel angry” or “I see you are sad,” you validate her feelings and help her learn how to talk about them.
- Assure her they will pass. Kids sometimes think they will feel this way forever. It may help to say, “I will wait here with you until your angry feelings are done” or “When you feel calm again, we can…”
- Teach self-control. We feel what we feel. But we choose how we act. Help your child express her feelings appropriately and then choose to act in positive ways. She may feel sad and need to cry about a broken toy, but she can choose not to hit the child who broke it.
- Demonstrate coping skills. Kids can learn ways to manage their emotions. Teach techniques like counting to 10 before reacting to frustration, deep breathing to calm down, and physically exercising to release pent-up feelings.
- Encourage optimism. When life goes wrong, first acknowledge your child’s disappointment, then help her think of some positive aspects of the situation. “You’re sad the rain kept us from going to the park again. How disappointing! What can we do here instead?”
You may be tempted to solve your child’s problem for her. Instead, make it your goal to teach and equip her to solve her own problems.
Rather than telling your child how to solve her problems, ask questions to get her thinking:
- “How could you do it differently next time?”
- “What do you need to be able to do this?”
- “Let’s brainstorm ways to solve this. What ideas do you have?”
- “How might these ideas make things better? Worse?”
Young children will need a few suggestions to help them see how problem-solving works. Soon, they will learn to invent solutions themselves.
And remember, sometimes trying and failing is the one of the best ways to learn. Which leads to step 3.
Launch: Let Your Child Face the Challenges
As hard as it is to watch our children take risks and possibly fail, it is far worse to raise an adult who never learned to recover from life’s setbacks.
Encourage healthy risk-taking.
Now while the stakes are low, encourage your child to take healthy, age-appropriate risks. What is a “healthy risk”? It is a challenge that pushes your child just beyond her comfort zone but brings very little harm if she is unsuccessful.
Embrace mistakes and failures.
Motivational speaker Denis Waitley says, “Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” In other words, failure is part of life.
Help your child accept failure as part of the learning process. Then praise her for her efforts, not just her successes. Talk about what she can learn from the experience, and encourage her to try again with something similar or new.
Empathize from experience.
How did you feel when you faced failures or mistakes similar to those of your child? In age-appropriate ways, share those stories. What did you learn from them? How did you bounce back? When your child hears how you survived, she’ll believe there’s a good chance she will, too.
Building Your Own Resilience
Helping your child develop the confidence, optimism, emotional control, and courage that come with resilience is easiest if you are already resilient yourself.
But maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “How can I teach my child these things when I’ve never learned them myself?”
Maybe it’s time to walk yourself through the steps above.
- Support. What positive relationships do you have (or can you develop) that will strengthen your “roots”? Stay close to friends that affirm your value and recognize your capability. Share this article with them, so they can encourage the steps you’re taking toward becoming resilient. And if you live near Redwood Falls, Minnesota, come talk to us at Choices Pregnancy Center. We support parents in becoming the people they want to be through our free Life Coaching and parenting education.
- Teach. Scroll back up to this section above and identify what you need to learn first. Examine your reactions to stress and disappointment, asking yourself, “Why do I respond this way?” Pinpointing what stresses are most likely to upset you can help you prepare to face them in new ways. Decide how you want to respond more positively in the future, and take steps to make those changes.
- Launch. Try facing your next challenge with your new positive responses. Accept that you may fail sometimes but turn those failures into learning experiences: get up and try again. And don’t forget to celebrate all your successes!
Choices Pregnancy Center works to help women and men grow through pregnancy and beyond
to build strong, healthy families.