How to Build Resilience in Kids: 5 Powerful Strategies to Help Your Child Through Anything
So your child’s been living through a world-wide pandemic. At first, maybe the cancelation of school was exciting and video chatting Grandma was fun.
But now, your child may be showing signs that this global crisis is actually having a serious affect.
Some parents have seen their children misbehave more often or even regress developmentally—talking like a baby, ditching their potty-training, or suddenly having sleep problems. Experts assure us that this is normal and something to be expected during times of dramatic change.
With loads of patience and understanding, we can help our children respond resiliently to this time of crisis.
You’re a more experienced human. You know that crises—or simply changes to what’s familiar—will abound throughout your little one’s life. There are many things you can do as a parent to help your child build resilience and take it all in stride.
What is resilience?
When you hear the word resilience, what comes to mind? Anne Frank, Martin Luther King, or Thomas Edison? We often think of heros who were somehow able to maintain their cool through failure or tragedy; people who thrived in circumstances that could have easily destroyed their morale. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress.”
So what does resilience look like for our children?
Resilient kids don’t make it through tragedy unscathed. They still experience emotional and physical outcomes of hardship. However, those outcomes are minimized and impermanent because a resilient child knows how to adapt and thrive in changing circumstances. They know how to problem solve, manage their emotions, and cope with stress. Resilient kids see themselves as agents and believe in their own ability to change their environment through their own choices.
Ultimately, resilient kids find success and growth through hardship and prosperity.
Can resilience be built?
Resilience used to be thought of as a personality trait—a genetic or biological advantage you either have or don’t have. However, recent research has uncovered that resilience is a skill and can actually be learned regardless of age, gender, or circumstance.
In fact, the early years of childhood are an optimal and critical time for developing resilience.
The development of resilience is a process, and no child is going to be perfectly resilient with every challenge that comes. Like all learning, the process is messy and strenuous. Resilience is not built through smooth sailing; instead, children learn resilience through challenge.
Parenting is Key
Countless studies have recognized parenting as key to the development (or under development) of children’s resilience. The way that you parent has a long-term impact on your child’s emotional intelligence and, ultimately, how they will respond to challenges now and in the future. Research has linked the neurodevelopment of children directly to parenting, saying:
“Parenting that is caring and supportive of a child builds more connections in that child’s brain and in particular in the temporal lobe where social and emotional understanding forms.”
Be involved. You don’t have to be the best parent in the world—you’ll make your fair share of mistakes. But do your best to ensure that you’re showing up for your kids more often than not. What may seem like small, insignificant efforts add up, and they’re what your child will remember.
How can I help my child build resilience?
Research has identified several factors that can either contribute or compromise your child’s resilience. Thankfully, a lot of them are within your control as a parent.
1. Teach Emotional Regulation
This is a big one that we reference frequently. In fact, one of the main goals of our EQ Explorers series is to give your little ones the tools to recognize and manage their emotions. Research has uncovered a strong link between a child’s ability to self-regulate and their level of resilience, proving that emotional intelligence really is at the heart of resilience. Emotional regulation is all about coping. When your child experiences big emotions—fear, disappointment, surprise—how do they respond? Do they instantly become overwhelmed and struggle to keep their brain in the game? Or do they find effective, appropriate ways to respond? The simple practices of listening, validating, and offering appropriate solutions will give your child the necessary know-how to improve this skill.
2. Encourage Social-Emotional Learning
In recent years, Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) has become a big buzzword in the realm of education—and rightly so. Parents, educators, and policy makers are recognizing the importance of focusing on the development of our children’s emotional intelligence, and not just their IQ. If you homeschool your kids, consider adding more SEL to your curriculum. If not, think of ways you can supplement your child’s learning with SEL activities and conversations. What books or shows can you add to your child’s media library that focus on SEL? What discussions can you have around the dinner table that highlight the importance of emotions? Think about your child’s emotional development, and not just how many times tables they can memorize.
3. Talk it Through
One study found that children who are more resilient children come from families where parents are more likely to have problem-solving conversations with their kids. How often do you have discussions as a family about issues your children are facing, and all of the associated feelings? If your child is excluding other kids at school, talk it through. If the teacher called you about behavioral problems, talk it through. Consistent conversations will do wonders for your kids and will show them that you care. Remember, encourage independence and let them exert some brain power to come up with solutions to their problems. Invite them to role-play different scenarios in which they can apply their EQ skills.
4. Help Your Child Build a Support Network
You don’t need to be your child’s only support. By encouraging them to develop relationships with other adults, you’ll give them yet another tool to navigate the world. Consider coaches, teachers, neighbors, and family members. Make sure they are people you trust to help protect and guide your child. Having a support network—and specifically relationships with adults—beyond their parents can help children learn things they may not otherwise experience or discover.
5. Create a Family Culture of Positivity
The quality of life a child has within their family in large part determines how resilient they will be. If they experience warmth, support, and care in the home, they are better able to respond positively to challenges, now and in the future. Each family has a “family culture” that is influenced by their belief system and world view. How do you view adversity in your family? Do you fear it, avoid it, and dread it? If you do, your child is likely to develop the same attitude. Try shifting your outlook to one of positivity and hope. Teach your children that problems aren’t to be avoided, but overcome. As you do, you’ll send a strong message reinforcing their power and capability.
It’s easy to see that resilience is a necessary skill in today’s world. If your child works to develop resilience, they will be able to find success and happiness through the various circumstances in their life, whether change and crisis abound or only make an occasional appearance.
Be proactive and do what you can now to teach your child resilience. We’ll make it through this pandemic, one isolated day at time. Let’s build some resilience while we’re at it.
Khanlou, Nazilla, and Ron Wray. “A Whole Community Approach toward Child and Youth Resilience Promotion: A Review of Resilience Literature.” International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, vol. 12, no. 1, 2014, pp. 64–79., doi:10.1007/s11469-013-9470-1.
Malmberg, Lars-Erik, and Eirini Flouri. “The Comparison and Interdependence of Maternal and Paternal Influences on Young Children's Behavior and Resilience.” Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, vol. 40, no. 3, 2011, pp. 434–444., doi:10.1080/15374416.2011.563469.
Taket, A.r., et al. “Family Strategies to Support and Develop Resilience in Early Childhood.” Early Years, vol. 34, no. 3, 2014, pp. 289–300., doi:10.1080/09575146.2013.877421.