Making Our Kids Resilient

We all want our kids to be resilient. To be able to bounce back from adversity; to stand strong in the face of contention; to hold fast when problems arise. It’s not an easy thing to teach and for kids to really ingrain this, you, as a parent must exercise resiliency as well. Rosabeth Moss Kanter wrote in the New York Times, “resilience is the ability to recover from fumbles and outright mistakes and bounce back.” The dictionary defines resilience as “the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” 

With these definitions in mind, one of the ways we can help build up that resilience is to give our kids the tools to develop their inner strength. For instance, I have a seven year old daughter who sometimes gets pretty dejected if she doesn’t do well in her swim meets. Sometimes she’ll say “I’m not good at anything” or “I always lose.” So I engage her in a conversation to help her understand why she thinks she may not have done well. I’ll ask her questions like “Do you think you weren’t kicking hard enough” or “Are you sneaking peeks at the other swimmers instead of concentrating on your own stroke?” I try to help her take her problem or issue apart, and have her understand a valid reason why she feels she didn’t perform well. Then after I see that she gets where she may have faltered, I tell her that next time she’ll be stronger because she now knows why she may not have done so well.

For my daughter to succeed in her swimming competitions, she needs to have the resilience to bounce back from challenges and overcome failure. Understanding the challenge is the first step. Teaching our kids to be competent is another step. Every child is going to have a different level of competency, but your goal should be to encourage your child to master a task according to their competency level, then slowly have the child approach increasingly difficult tasks. Success at one task will set in motion the steps to complete other tasks.

Another trait — confidence — correlates with feelings of hope and optimism. A confident child performs better at school and in social interactions, and is more likely to try things less confident kids may be averse to. Feeling confident is especially important in helping children develop a sense of resilience. To help your children develop confidence, encourage them to participate in new experiences and give them specific praise that’s closely tied to their efforts. A common mistake that we make is shielding our kids from pain.  We overly protect them and help them before they get a chance to figure out solutions themselves. By allowing kids first hand experiences to deal with pain and emotions, they develop resilience.

Social connection is also an important trait for children to develop. Resilient children often have a strong bond with family and friends, as well as teachers and other people in caregiver roles. By being there in a supportive role when a child experiences a set back, family and friends can turn a negative situation into a positive one. Sharing stories similiar to the set back can help the child understand that failure or challenges happen to anyone in any situation.

Character, the trait that instills a moral compass, is not something that a lot of parents teach their kids. All kids are born with some sense of right and wrong, but as parents, we need to help our kids develop their natural instincts into an internal moral compass by teaching them standards to follow. Parents make their children the center of the universe, believing the more they give their child, the better off they will be. Doing this creates a child who thinks the world revolves around them. Rather than giving our kids everything, we should teach them how to give to others. To share and look after the world. To be empathetic.

Helping our children develop resilience is a way we can set them up for success. By building up their mental strength, we can help them take on the challenges of the world when they leave the “nest” and approach life with confidence and determination. 

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