While adulthood is filled with serious responsibilities, childhood isn’t exactly stress-free. Kids take tests, learn new information, change schools, change neighborhoods, get sick, get braces, encounter bullies, make new friends and occasionally get hurt by those friends.
What helps kids in navigating these kinds of challenges is resilience.
10 Tips For Raising Resilient Kids
Resilient kids are problem solvers. They face unfamiliar or tough situations and strive to find good solutions. “When they step into a situation, resilient kids have a sense they can figure out what they need to do and can handle what is thrown at them with a sense of confidence,” said Lynn Lyons, LICSW. This doesn’t mean that kids have to do everything on their own. Rather, they know how to ask for help and are able to problem-solve their next steps.
Resilience isn’t birthright. It can be taught. Lyons encouraged parents to equip their kids with the skills to handle the unexpected, which actually contrasts our cultural approach. “We have become a culture of trying to make sure our kids are comfortable. We as parents are trying to stay one step ahead of everything our kids are going to run into.”
The problem? “Life doesn’t work that way.”
A parent’s job isn’t to be there all the time for their kids. It’s to teach them to handle uncertainty and to problem-solve. Below, Lyons shared her valuable suggestions for raising resilient kids.
-- Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
1. Don’t accommodate every need.
According to Lyons, “whenever we try to provide certainty and comfort, we are getting in the way of children being able to develop their own problem-solving and mastery.” (Overprotecting kids only fuels their anxiety.)
She gave a “dramatic but not uncommon example.” A child gets out of school at 3:15. But they worry about their parent picking them up on time. So the parent arrives an hour earlier and parks by their child’s classroom so they can see the parent is there.
2. Avoid eliminating all risk.
Naturally, parents want to keep their kids safe. But eliminating all risk robs kids of learning resiliency. In one family Lyons knows, the kids aren’t allowed to eat when the parents are not home, because there’s a risk they might choke on their food. (If the kids are old enough to stay home alone, they’re old enough to eat, she said.)
The key is to allow appropriate risks and teach your kids essential skills. “Start young. The child who’s going to get his driver’s license is going to have started when he’s 5 [years old] learning how to ride his bike and look both ways [slow down and pay attention].” Giving kids age-appropriate freedom helps them learn their own limits, she said.
3. Teach them to problem-solve.
Let’s say your child wants to go to sleep-away camp, but they’re nervous about being away from home. An anxious parent, Lyons said, might say, “Well, then there’s no reason for you to go.” But a better approach is to normalize your child’s nervousness, and help them figure out how to navigate being homesick. So you might ask your child how they can practice getting used to being away from home.
When Lyons’s son was anxious about his first final exam, they brainstormed strategies, including how he’d manage his time and schedule in order to study for the exam. In other words, engage your child in figuring out how they can handle challenges. Give them the opportunity, over and over, “to figure out what works and what doesn’t.”
4. Teach your kids concrete skills.
When Lyons works with kids, she focuses on the specific skills they’ll need to learn in order to handle certain situations. She asks herself, “Where are we going with this [situation]? What skill do they need to get there?” For instance, she might teach a shy child how to greet someone and start a conversation.
5. Avoid “why” questions.
“Why” questions aren’t helpful in promoting problem-solving.
Ask “how” questions instead. "How are you going to do better on your next test?" "How do you handle the noisy boys on the bus that bug you?”
6. Don’t provide all the answers.
Rather than providing your kids with every answer, start using the phrase “I don’t know." Using this phrase helps kids learn to tolerate uncertainty and think about ways to deal with potential challenges.
Starting with small situations when they’re young helps prepare kids to handle bigger trials. They won’t like it, but they’ll get used to it.
For instance, if your child asks if they’re getting a shot at the doctor’s office, instead of placating them, say, “I don’t know. You might be due for a shot. Let’s figure out how you’re doing to get through it.”
If your child complains about not liking a teacher, instead of saying, “I will see if I can get your teacher changed,” you might explain that there will likely be people from time to time that your student doesn't like. Help your child figure out how to manage those feelings.
7. Avoid talking in catastrophic terms.
Pay attention to what you say to your kids and around them. Anxious parents, in particular, tend to talk very catastrophically around their children.
8. Let your kids make mistakes.
Failure is not the end of the world. It’s the place you get to when you figure out what to do next. Letting kids mess up is tough and painful for parents. But it helps kids learn how to fix slip-ups and make better decisions next time.
9. Help them manage their emotions.
Emotional management is key in resilience. Teach your kids that all emotions are OK. It’s OK to feel angry that you lost the game or someone else finished your ice cream. Also, teach them that after feeling their feelings, they need to think through what they’re doing next.
“Kids learn very quickly which powerful emotions get them what they want. Parents have to learn how to ride the emotions, too.” You might tell your child, “I understand that you feel that way. I’d feel the same way if I were in your shoes, but now you have to figure out what the appropriate next step is.”
If your child throws a tantrum, she said, be clear about what behavior is appropriate (and inappropriate). You might say, “I’m sorry we’re not going to get ice cream, but this behavior is unacceptable.”
10. Model resiliency.
Of course, kids also learn from observing their parents’ behavior. Try to be calm and consistent, Lyons said. “You cannot say to a child you want them to control their emotions, while you yourself are flipping out.” “Parenting takes a lot of practice and we all screw up.” When you do make a mistake, admit it. “I really screwed up. I’m sorry I handled that poorly. Let’s talk about a different way to handle that in the future,” Lyons said.
Resiliency helps kids navigate the inevitable trials, triumphs and tribulations of childhood and adolescence. Resilient kids also become resilient adults, able to survive and thrive in the face of life’s unavoidable stressors.
7 ESSENTIAL RESILIENCY SKILLS
1. Emotional Wellness and Regulation
Ability to identify emotional experiences and control emotional response to external events. Resilient people are comfortable with their feelings and they express a broad array of emotions – happiness, joy, fear, sadness. Resilient people don’t get “stuck” in an emotion. Although they might feel sad or scared, these feelings don’t prevent them from coping with the situation and moving forward.
2. Impulse Control
We all have impulses to do things and say things – these are not always in our best interest, nor helpful to others. To be resilient doesn’t mean to stop these impulses, but it does require you to stop acting on every impulse that does not serve you well. These skills of impulse control can be learned.
Learning the skills of optimism can help protect against depression and anxiety. Optimism involves learning to think positively about the future – even when things go wrong. It’s about looking objectively at a situation, making a conscious decision to focus on the good. Optimistic people are happier, more engaged, succeed more and are better problem solvers.
4. Flexible and Accurate Thinking
To be resilient requires flexible and accurate thinking, seeing different perspectives. Someone who is resilient can come up with a variety of reasons for being successful in something (multiple factors). Flexible and accurate thinking allows multiple solutions to a problem, having Plan B and C is vital to resilience.
The ability to recognize another person’s feelings and respond accordingly and respectfully. Understanding another’s emotion in relation to that of your own. Empathy assists resilience through developing strong supportive relationships. Understanding other people’s feelings / emotions / experiences is particularly helpful when people are experiencing tough times.
Having success in something and then using that as a personal reference point for ability, and working on that to bring further success, achievement and a belief in yourself.
- Having a belief in their abilities will help to improve resiliency
- Using past experiences, recording them and reflecting on how they made them feel will assist skills needed in tough times and in striving to achieve
7. Connectedness and Reaching Out
Placing importance in help–seeking behaviors through connections with other people. Having a range of friendship circles that reflect different areas of social need and making the effort to build and nurture friendships that move and change with time.
School connectedness—the belief held by students that adults and peers in the school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals—is an important protective factor. Research has shown that young people who feel connected to their school are less likely to engage in many risk behaviors, including early sexual initiation, alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use, and violence and gang involvement. Students who feel connected to their school are also more likely to have better academic achievement, including higher grades and test scores, have better school attendance, and stay in school longer.
Efforts to improve child and adolescent health have typically addressed specific health risk behaviors, such as tobacco use or violence. However, results from a growing number of studies suggest that greater health impact might be achieved by also enhancing protective factors that help children and adolescents avoid multiple behaviors that place them at risk for adverse health and educational outcomes.
5 Ways to Empower Your Teen
To empower is to infuse with power or ability. We can empower our teenagers to be thinking, discerning, caring individuals capable of making good choices in all areas of their lives. Here are just a few ways to empower your teens.
- Trust Them
- Let Them Make Decisions
- Let Them Have Consequences
- Teach Them to Be Choosy
- Teach Them To Take Care of Themselves