Fostering Resiliency in Kids

Growing up in a single-parent home, with a mother who struggled with alcoholism and other mental health issues, meant my sister and I witnessed more at a tender age then we should have. As a result, we were mature beyond our years, we learned to overcome, and we became resilient.

Overcoming hardships and obstacles builds character and leads to resilience. When we don’t experience any adversity, there is no way to know if we are resilient. Research indicates some children develop resilience while others do not. The question I ask myself, as a parent and a psychologist, is how can my husband and I help our two daughters safely foster and test their own resilience? 

 Here I share some ideas:

1. Allow failure: Let them fail and do not rescue them when they do. As tempting as it might be to rush in and “fix” things or pick up the pieces for our kids, when we do so, the underlying message we send is “you’re not capable of figuring this out.” 

2. Model a growth mindset:A growth mindset means you view failure as a challenge and an opportunity for growth. Explicitly and openly talk about this as a family. 

3. Shape perspective:Recognize that perception is key. Help children see that they have control over their achievements. Studies show that when we have an internal locus of control — believing that we, not our circumstances, orchestrate our stories — we are more resilient. 

4. Nurture strong bonds: We all need advocates but research indicates that a supportive, caring, adult is especially crucial in a child’s development.

5. Encourage a positive outlook: Rather than emphasize skills, help kids effectively use whatever abilities they naturally possess. Resilience is not equated with giftedness necessarily, but rather with autonomy and a positive orientation towards life. 

6. Seek meaning:Find significance, even when there are no answers, in hardship. Without trivializing trauma, teach ways we can find hope, lessons, and grow amidst tragedy.

7. Build faith: Research is clear – resilient individuals find strength in their spiritual and religious beliefs.

8. Teach emotional regulation: Help children learn how to calm down and move on from a negative experience or tough situation. For example, teach breathing techniques, neutralizing/positive self-talk such as “I’m okay”, “It’s alright”, “I can do this”, and normalize strong emotions.

9. Reframe:Help them learn how to reframe negative events. How we think about things and the stories we tell impact our reaction and adjustment. 

10. Empathize: Do your best to see a situation from your children’s perspective and help them articulate their own feelings.