How Do We Help Kids Develop Resiliency?

The word "Resilience" spelled out on colorful rocks.

If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that the only constant in life is change.  We have all had our lives turned upside down and inside out over the past year.  And just when we thought we were getting it figured out, it went and changed again!  So, how do we help our kids and youth manage these constant changes?  How can we help them thrive instead of merely survive life amidst constant change?  Global pandemic aside, sometimes life is just hard;  there’s no getting around it.  What matters is our ability to navigate setbacks, disappointments, and uncertainty.  Resiliency is just that—a person’s ability to adjust appropriately and bounce back from difficult life circumstances.  Here are a few ways that we can help children develop resiliency:

  1. Children learn through experience.  That means parents/caregivers must let children experience disappointment, defeat, failure, and make mistakes.
  2. Ideally, children learn to be resilient within a supportive relationship with a caring adult.  A parent/caregiver should not downplay or dismiss a child’s challenges, but instead listen to and validate their feelings, then help the child develop and practice positive coping strategies and problem solve.
  3. Encourage children to try new things that put them outside of their comfort zone.  Allow them to experience discomfort at times and to experience the satisfaction of pushing through it.  Foster in a child the idea that taking risks and persevering are more important than getting it “right.”
  4. Help a child tackle his/her fears.  Allowing a child to avoid things that feel “scary” or “too hard” reinforces their fears and suggests that you don’t feel that they are capable/competent enough to manage the situation.  Acknowledge the fear gently and with compassion, then work with the child to create a step-by-step plan to work through the fear.
  5. Let children make age-appropriate decisions, take reasonable risks, and experience natural consequences.  Encourage them to accept ownership and responsibility for their choices.
  6. Normalize setbacks or challenges.  Share your failures and/or learning experiences and how you handled them.  Tell them stories about others who have failed and persisted.
  7. Teach a child to have an internal locus of control; we can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond.
  8. Help children to develop a growth mindset by viewing setbacks or challenges as opportunities for growth and learning.
  9. Resist the urge to rush in and “fix” problems.   If a parent/caregiver always “rescues” a child experiencing challenges, they stunt that child’s ability to learn how to appropriately cope with these stressors.  Give the child time to figure things out on his/her own and ask questions to guide them to appropriate solutions.
  10. Spend positive, quality time with kids.  Feeling loved, supported and accepted is vital to their development of emotional resiliency.

When we help kids to develop resiliency, we give them a foundation for successfully navigating life’s challenges.  This process is a journey, not a destination, so be patient with yourself and them as you move forward.  If you can survive a global pandemic, I think you’ve got this!

Lori Jo Leonard, LCSW

Lori Jo Leonard, LCSW

Lori Jo is a therapist in our Stansbury Park office.

a happy father receives a kiss from his son

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