By Jay Cooper:
Resilience is a bit of a buzzword, one that’s often thrown around by parents, caregivers and coaches. You’ve heard the words of encouragement: recover, bounce back, get over it. Easier said than done, especially for those of us with many more life experiences than a young chlld. While simply exhorting may be shortsided and even futile, when it comes to instilling coping skills to make your kid more resilient, there are some practices you can employ.
Dictionary.com defines resilience as the “ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.” Psychology Today has a more poetic definition of resilience: “That ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever.”
An article from Understood explains an important shift in the way we think about resilience, one that is highlighted by the Psychology Today definition. Resilience isn’t simply recovering from a setback or major life event. Resilience is about learning from that event, growing as a person, and coming back stronger than ever.
At The Summit, resilience is taught in the classroom, in athletics and is an element of our signature Character Education program.
Why Resilience is Important
As much as we try, there is no way to protect children from failure and setbacks. Thus, the best thing parents can do is arm their children with skills that will help them to recover. This is something that all parents want for their children: the ability to bounce back with grace and ease.
The benefits of resilience are many. According to Best Start, people who can recover quickly from a hardship have more functional relationships, more fruitful careers and are less at risk for depression and suicide.
Additionally, raising resilient children can make parenting a little easier.
“As we partner to develop resilient children who will ‘improve the world they inherit,’ let us reflect on kids as dandelions and orchids,” says Kendra Thornton, Ed.D., Lower School Director at The Summit Country Day School who is a professional clinical counselor and has an educational specialty in brain-based education. “Dandelions are hearty and adaptable to any setting, finding ways to flourish even in challenging conditions. Orchids, however, are more delicate and require a very specific environment to thrive. If your child has a heightened reaction to change and surroundings, it can create a unique set of parenting challenges.”
These challenges can be avoided when a parent fosters resilience in their child and thus reduces that heightened reaction to change.
How to Raise a Resilient Child
While it is clear why resilience is important for children, it can be much less clear how to foster this trait in a child. Here are some tips for raising resilient children.
1. Create a consistent environment
A major component of resilience is the ability to self-regulate. The best way to help a child learn this skill is by providing them with consistent consequences that they can experience in a safe environment.
“By creating a consistent, secure and fair social environment, with clear expectations and predictable consequences, children can develop skills in managing themselves and their emotions.” That from the Huffington Post.
This is not only the responsibility of parents, the article goes on to explain, “It’s a teacher’s job to provide a challenging environment where children can learn through first-hand experiences. They may experience bumps, bruises or losing a game from time to time, but this is the foundation for building coping strategies for greater challenges in life.”
While this is not a realistic model of the real world – we can’t always predict consequences – it is a safe, developmentally appropriate way for a child to exercise their resilience “muscle,” if you will.
2. Encourage your child to take risks
It’s uncomfortable for a parent to watch their child experience fear or anxiety, but it’s only through these emotions that a child can exhibit bravery.
Encourage your child to take chances and do things that are a little scary. Whether it’s trying out for the basketball team, going to their first sleepover or jumping off the high dive, support their desire to take appropriate risks, says this Psych Central article. Risks generate the opportunity for a child to fail and bounce back, thus allowing them the opportunity to be resilient.
3. Allow your child to solve problems
Just because you can solve a problem for your child doesn’t mean you should.
Children are hardwired to ask their parents for help. While it’s important to support your child, it’s also important to give them the opportunity to figure things out on their own. Rather than immediately retrieving that “lost” shoe, perhaps let the child look around a little harder.
Problem-solving is an essential part of resilience, so don’t rob your child of their chance to foster this skill.
4. Be an example
To truly raise resilient children, parents need to demonstrate that trait in action.
In order to do this, parents have to be honest about their struggles. Explain to your child when you’re having a hard time with something and show them how you remain calm and recover from that difficulty.
Your won’t always be able to model perfect resiliency, but that’s a lesson in itself. Acknowledge when you are having a hard time getting over something and discuss with your child how you could do better next time.
This type of honesty normalizes struggle, which is important in developing resilience. Don’t hide your hardships from your child, as this might make them think struggle is abnormal. As this Psychology Today article says, “Acting strong is not strong, it is acting.”
5. Embrace all emotions
Before a child can recover from adversity, she must be able to sit with the difficult feelings associated with adversity.
Part of being able to bounce back is understanding that difficult feelings—grief, anger, anxiety—don’t last forever. They are temporary. But a child can’t understand that if a parent is unwilling to acknowledge their full range of emotions.
Rather than rushing to soothe a child’s crying or end their temper tantrum, let those emotions play out and acknowledge them. You might say something like, “I can hear that you are upset right now. We all feel that way sometimes, but don’t worry, you will feel better soon.”
Making room for your child to experience all feelings—even the hard ones—will help them to become more resilient.
Perfection isn’t the goal
There is no perfect formula for raising resilient children. In fact, perfection is exactly what you don’t want to model, as that leaves no opportunity to demonstrate resilience.
Resilience is an important skill to impart to children, one that they will carry with them long after parents and caregivers are gone. Use these techniques to foster resilience in your children, helping them become happier, healthier adults.
Jay Cooper is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer.
About Kendra Thornton
Kendra Thornton, Ed.D., is Lower School Director at The Summit Country Day School. She received her doctorate in education from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., with a specialization in “Mind, Brain and Teaching.” A professional clinical counselor, Dr. Thornton has been published in professional journals and has been a presenter at national conferences.