How to foster resilience in children

How to foster resilience in children

Life can be tough no matter your age. Even children face challenges. That’s where resilience comes in.

Resilience is our ability to persevere and adapt to changes and stressors in our world. It does not mean that we don’t experience difficulties and emotions such as sadness or fear, but that we can move forward when they do occur.

Children have the potential to be our most resilient members of society as their ongoing brain development allows for flexibility and rapid growth. Examples of resiliency in children can be as small as a toddler returning to play after skinning their knee or as large as becoming a professional athlete after a childhood of homelessness.

Resilience can be strengthened through example, and we can teach it to children both subtly and overtly. The American Psychological Association offers these tips for building resilience in children and teens (more detail for each at the link above):

  1. Make connections: Teach your child the importance of engaging with their peers.
  2. Help your child by having them help others: This can help them feel empowered.
  3. Maintain a daily routine: Can be comforting, but also remember to be flexible.
  4. Take a break: Build in unstructured time for creativity and be mindful of what your child is exposed to that can be troubling (the news, internet or overheard conversations).
  5. Teach your child self-care: Things like eating healthy, getting enough sleep and exercising. Make sure they have time in their day to have fun.
  6. Move toward your goals: Teach goal setting and working toward achieving goals.
  7. Nurture a positive self-view: Remind your child how they have moved past tough times in the past and help them trust in themselves.
  8. Keep things in perspective and maintain a hopeful outlook: Help them see there is a future beyond the current situation.
  9. Look for opportunities for self-discovery: Explain that whatever they’re facing can help teach them what they’re made of.
  10. Accept change: Show them that change is a normal part of life and can be positive.

Parents and caregivers play a role in social-emotional coaching of our children. We know that “what gets attention gets repeated,” and when we engage children in using these skills, they’re able to use that in the future. Connectedness is an important part of resilience in children – for both immediate attachment needs and to help children try different response patterns.

Sometimes when we talk about optimism or having a positive outlook, there are concerns about “toxic positivity.” But we can prevent that by giving our child space for their valid sadness or anxiety while also taking the opportunity to look at the good.

I have also found the following practices to be successful in building resiliency:

  • Ask your child to name a few good things, favorite parts of the day, or what they’re thankful for in the moment.
  • Start a brief round-robin of compliments to cultivate noticing something good and practice receiving praise.
  • Perform acts of kindness and gratitude, which can be as small as coloring a picture, sending a kind text or saying a verbal thank you. Practicing with your child what they want to say gives you an opportunity to talk while fostering their other relationships and coaching the social language of gratitude.

Whenever possible, take the opportunity to experience awe, joy, self-compassion, your own strength and humor. You’ll be surprised to see how much of a difference that practice can make.

Dr. Laura Yahr Nelson is the medical director of Child & Adolescent Services at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital.

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About the Author

Dr. Laura Yahr Nelson
Dr. Laura Yahr Nelson

Dr. Laura Yahr Nelson is the medical director of Child & Adolescent Services at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital.