Resilience is the capacity to cope with adversity and bounce back from difficult events. Resilient kids can manage stress, challenges, failure, and other obstacles. As a result, they have the courage to take healthy risks and venture outside of their comfort zones. They can become independent thinkers and problem-solvers with the persistence to reach long-term goals.
Fortunately, resilience is a life skill that can be nurtured and developed in children. Here’s how to help your child become more confident, persistent, and resilient.
Develop a deep emotional connection
Connection is a fundamental human need that helps us feel supported and strong. Positive, caring relationships foster emotional safety, and it is within these relationships that children learn coping skills and develop self-esteem.
Research shows that resilient children have at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive adult. Show your children that you accept and love them just as they are. Listen to them, validate their emotions, and spend fully present one-on-one time with each child as often as possible.
Key ingredients of connection include eye contact, presence, playfulness, and touch, so build more of these elements into your daily interactions with your children.
Strengthen their executive functioning
Executive functions are essential self-regulatory skills like flexible thinking, working memory, decision-making, and managing emotions. These skills are closely correlated with mental, physical, and emotional health. Strong executive functioning makes it easier to plan, focus attention, take goal-directed action, and successfully control and coordinate cognitive abilities.
You can help your children improve their executive functioning by modeling positive behavior, establishing consistent routines, and playing memory games. Mindfulness practices like deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can also boost executive functioning.
Since resilience is the ability to bounce back from challenges, it naturally goes hand in hand with optimism. While some children may seem more naturally optimistic than others, positive thinking and a positive outlook are teachable.
If your children tend toward pessimism, acknowledge the feelings that lead to their pessimistic thinking. Then, help children practice reframing their thoughts to find the positive. Other strategies to promote positivity include sharing positive experiences with your children, practicing positive affirmations, helping others, and expressing gratitude.
Point out everyday moments of positivity and inspiration, and you’ll train your children’s brains to begin looking for and recognizing the positive aspects of life.
Teach them to embrace mistakes
Children who fear and avoid failure lack resilience. Often, these children are highly anxious and afraid of making mistakes, which holds them back from trying new things or stretching their limits.
Make sure that you focus more on the process of learning than on the end result. Too much emphasis on results can cause anxiety and risk avoidance in children, which is detrimental to resilience.
Embrace mistakes (including your own), and talk to your children about the learning opportunities that come from mistakes. Give examples from your own life. When your children make mistakes, ask what they learned or what they plan to do differently next time, then give them a high five and say, “Way to go! You’re learning!”
You can also download free printables for kids from Big Life Journal, which are designed to help you raise happy, resilient kids through a focus on topics like mistakes, growth mindset, positivity, and more.
Encourage them to take “healthy risks”
Resilient children have the confidence to take “healthy risks” outside of their comfort zones. Trying new activities, learning new skills, and stretching their limits in healthy ways helps children develop confidence. Through taking healthy risks, children become more willing to try new things and to persevere.
Healthy risks for young children include trying new foods or activities, exploring at a playground or safe outdoor area, and leading or self-directing imaginary play. Older children may want to try a new sport or instrument, volunteer, join a new club, or try out for a school play. Encourage these endeavors, and emphasize learning and fun if they don’t work out the way your child hoped.
Normalize asking for help
Asking for help is an important strategy that children (and adults) can use when they get stuck. Teach your children that asking for help isn’t cowardly or giving up. In fact, it shows bravery and strength.
Model help-seeking, and don’t reprimand your children when they ask for help. You may want to set a rule, such as, “Try two strategies yourself before asking for help.” When your children do seek your help, offer support, hints, and guiding questions rather than carrying them to the finish line.
Be their support system
Social support teaches children safety and trust. It’s associated with independence, self-esteem, motivation, positive emotions, and resilience. Be your children’s support system, and help them foster positive relationships with other supportive adults too.
When children feel a sense of belonging and acceptance, they are far more likely to take healthy risks and have the courage to bounce back from adversity. Encouraging and validating your children through your words and actions pays off tremendously in terms of resilience.
Greater resilience is linked to better physical health, improved learning and academic achievement, a lower rate of mortality, and reduced risk-taking behaviors (the unhealthy kind). All parents want these outcomes for their children. It’s fortunate, then, that all parents can help their children achieve these outcomes through a few simple positive practices.
Consciously connect with your children, promote positivity, embrace mistakes, and model the behavior you’d like to see, and you’ll be surprised by how quickly their resilience blossoms.
Alexandra Eidens is the founder of Big Life Journal, an engaging resource to help kids develop a resilient growth mindset so they can face life’s challenges with confidence.