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5 Ways to Raise Resilient Children

help your kids overcome challenges

With the uncertainty of what children will face as the fall semester begins, and as the pandemic, protests and national conversations on race continue, we’re reminded that resilience—the ability to recover from failure, setbacks or challenges—is a quality we are all born with and can rely on during times of stress.

Children’s need for connection increases when we face danger, disaster or uncertainty. Yet, there’s no way we can constantly protect them from the realities of the world.

The best we can do is help them understand what resilience is, and to make it a continual practice when challenges arise.

By keeping the concept of resilience front of mind, children will know how to overcome setbacks, learn from them and ultimately flourish. Resilience is like a muscle—the more you use it, the stronger it becomes.

Here are five recommendations for instilling resilience in children:

Be Self-Compassionate

Resilience allows you to bounce back from disappointment. But to bounce back, we must allow ourselves—and our children—time and space to feel our feelings and grieve the loss before we can move on.

Skipping this step can keep children stuck for much longer.

Next, recognize what they’re experiencing as difficult. Help your child develop a robust vocabulary to describe what they’re experiencing.

Give your child permission to say, “This is hard,” “This is scary,” or “I’m really worried.” Then remind your child that it’s OK to feel this way. There are no bad feelings. Feelings give us information. If your child is not keen on talking about their feelings, they could try journaling about it.

Finally, encourage your child to take a deep breath and remind them this is just one moment.

Be Flexible

When life doesn’t go as planned, flexibility allows us to form Plan B. Children thrive on routine, but our previous routines have shifted. In this new normal, they will have moments of deep frustration.

These are the times that flexibility is most important, for adults as well as children. Allow yourself to relax previously held standards that don’t make sense in the present.

Invite your child to partner with you to find creative solutions to solve problems that crop up. Adapt your responses to others with an awareness of their own level of stress. Flexibility will help you navigate whatever lies ahead.

Reframe Frustrations

Resilience has a lot to do with mindset. People who can find the good, even in difficult situations, tend to be more resilient. One way to reframe frustrations is to manage expectations from the beginning.

We all expect our lives to go in a straight line, but that doesn’t happen often.

Normalize the peaks and valleys of the journey so your children aren’t blindsided when things get hard. We sometimes refer to this process as “becoming besties with the bumps.” The bumps along the journey are what help us learn, grow and become well-rounded, successful human beings.

Consider the Physical Factors

There are three types of human energy: emotional, mental and physical. Physical energy is the most important.

When physically drained, we’re more emotionally reactive—our thinking is clouded and our judgment is impaired. Exercise builds that physical energy. Find ways to exercise with your children even if you’re not used to exercising. A simple walk around your neighborhood will shore up physical energy, allowing you and your children to apply emotional and mental energy to the stressors that you’ll encounter during the day.

And don’t forget about sleep! Brain cells are cleansed and recharged during sleep. Sleep deprivation will slow down cognitive function and increase emotional reactivity.

Binge-watching Netflix into the wee hours may be a good way to escape reality for a while, however lack of sleep will reduce your ability to be resilient when resilience is essential. So set a schedule that includes time for relaxing before sleep.

High quality sleep will sustain the energy needed to be resilient every day.

Model Resilience

If we want resilient children, it’s important that we model what resilience looks like, sounds like and feels like when we face challenges and disappointments.

Often, we try to put on a brave face for children when we’re struggling. So the next time you experience a setback, let your child hear you talk yourself through it.

It might sound something like, “I shared a proposal for a new project at work and my boss said it didn’t fit our goals. I feel really sad because I worked hard on it. I know I won’t feel sad forever though. Disappointment is a part of life and I’m proud of myself for taking the chance and putting my proposal out there. And my boss appreciated my initiative! I understand better what she wants, so I know my next one will be even better.”

Of course, it’s important to know what challenges are appropriate to share based on your child’s developmental stage. Giving them a peek into how you process a setback in a healthy way will give them the language to use when they face their own obstacles.

We are all in uncharted territory at this moment in our history and the challenges are steep.  The great news is, there has never been a better time to build and flex our resilience muscle.


Heather Bryant is the director of Innovation and Impact at Momentous Institute.

Image courtesy of iStock.