Building Resilience in Children

How do we manage to parent from a place of love and understanding, not fear and paranoia?

It's not possible to protect our children from the ups and downs of life. Raising resilient children, however, is possible and can provide them with the tools they need to respond to the challenges of adolescence and young adulthood and to navigate successfully in adulthood. Despite our best efforts, we cannot prevent adversity and daily stress; but we can learn to be more resilient by changing how we think about challenges and adversities.

Today's families, especially our children, are under tremendous stress with the potential to damage both physical health and psychological well-being.

The stress comes from families who are always on the go, who are overscheduled with extracurricular activites, and ever-present peer pressure. In the teen years, the anxiety and pressure are related to school, friendship and social media.

In today's environment, children and teens need to develop strengths, acquire skills to cope, recover from hardships, and be prepared for future challenges. They need to be resilient in order to succeed in life.

Competence

Competence describes the feeling of knowing that you can handle a situation effectively.

We can help the development of compentence by:

  • Helping children focus on individual strengths
  • Focusing any identified mistakes on specific incidents
  • Empowering children to make decisions
  • Being careful that you desire to protect your child doesn't mistakenly send a message that you don't think he or she is competent to handle things
  • Recognising the competencies of siblings individually and avoiding comparisons

 

Confidence

A child's belief in his own abilities is derived from competence. Build confidence by:

  • Focusing on the best in each child so that he or she can see that, as well
  • Clearly expressing the best qualities, such as fairness, integrity, persistence and kindness
  • Recognising when he or she has done well
  • Praising honestly about specific achievements; not diffusing praise that may lack authenticity
  • Not pushing the child to take on more than he or she can realistically handle

 

Connection

Developing close ties to family and community creates a solid sense of security that helps lead to strong values and prevents alternative destructive paths to love and attention.

You can help your child connect with others by:

  • Building a sense of physical safety and emotional security within your home
  • Allowing the expression of all emotions, so that kids will feel comfortable reaching out during difficult times
  • Addressing conflict openly in the family to resolve problems
  • Creating a common area where the family can share time (not necessarily TV time)
  • Fostering healthy relationships that will reinforce positive messages

 

Character

Children need to develop a solid set of morals and values to determine right from wrong and to demonstrate a caring attitude toward others.

To strengthen your child's character, start by:

  • Demonstrating how behaviours affect others
  • Helping your child recognise himself or herself as a caring person
  • Demonstrating the importance of community
  • Encouranging the development of spirituality
  • Avoiding racist or hateful statements or stereotypes

 

Contribution

Children need to realise that the world is a better place because they are in it. Understanding the importance of personal contribution can serve as a source of purpose and motivation. Teach your children how to contribute by:

  • Communicating to children that many people in the world do not have what they need
  • Stressing the importance of serving others by modeling generosity
  • Creating opportunities for each child to contribute in some specific way

 

Coping

Learning to cope effectively with stress will help your child be better prepared to overcome life's challenges. Positive coping lessons include:

  • Modeling positive coping strategies on a consistent basis
  • Guiding your child to develop positive and effective coping strategies
  • Realizing that telling him or her to stop the negative behaviour will not be effective
  • Understanding that many risky behaviours are attempts to alleviate the stress and pain in kids' daily lives
  • Not condemning your child for negative behaviours and, potentially, increasing his or her sense of shame

 

Control

Children who realize that they can control the outcomes of their decisions are more likely to realise that they have the ability to bounce back. Your child's understanding that he or she can make a difference further promotes competence and confidence. You can try to empower your child by:

  • Helping your child to understand that life's events are not purely random and that most things that happen are the result of another individual's choices and actions
  • Learning that discipline is about teaching, not punishing or controlling; using discipline to help your child to understand that his actions produce certain consequences.

 

There is no simple answer to guarantee resilience in every situation. But we can challenge oursleves to help our children develop the ability to negotitate their own challenges and to be more resilient, more capable, and happier.

 

Dr Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D, MS Ed, FAAP
Pediatrician Specializing in adolescent Medicine
Source Healthy Children Magazine, Winter 2007