Resilience describes a person’s capacity for overcoming adversity. If you’re an adult you probably already have plenty of practice in doing this. For parents and teachers, resilience is hard-won after years of falling down and getting back up again.
Due to our own experiences, we are inclined to believe that our child's ability to overcome adversity comes with time. In other words, they’ll live and they’ll learn.
Recent research has shown us that you don’t actually have to wait for major struggles or disasters for children and adolescents to learn resilience.
Skills for overcoming adversity can be taught in everyday life. By teaching these skills, parents and teachers can boost their child’s capacity to adapt to change and grow from their experiences.
Here are a few ways you can do it.
1. Support Their Autonomy
When we over-function for our kids, we prevent them from developing vital life skills. If a preschooler wants to prepare their own lunch, supervise them, but allow it. When your teenager needs to discuss a bad grade with their teacher, let them lead the conversation. Even if their attempt falls flat, they will have learned from it.
Pro-Tip: Another way to cultivate autonomy is by giving children more room to make choices. Asking your child, “What topic would you like to write about for your essay?” or even, “Which pair of pants would you like to wear?” helps them exercise independence.
2. Foster Analytical Thinking Skills
Another common tendency of adults is to swoop in and save the day. Doing this robs kids of opportunities to brainstorm solutions to their own problems. Don’t rush to solve your kid’s problems. If they come to you for support, encourage them to try to find a solution first. Let them bounce ideas around before offering your input.
3. Help Them Label Their Emotions
Emotional regulation is a skill that even some adults have yet to master. But you can give your child a head start by teaching them to identify and name different emotions. A journal is a great tool to help with this.
For example, your child is upset because they had a fight with a friend. Suggest that they write about the experience, describing what’s going through their minds and what’s happening in their bodies. They may learn that anger involves thoughts like, “I hate Jerry! I don’t want to play with him ever again!” It may also involve a physiological response, such as tight, sweaty fists and blood pumping in their face. Once they learn to identify and label their emotions, they can diffuse them with techniques like deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.
4. Teach Stress Management
It’s natural for adults to want to protect children from negative outcomes. However, it’s impossible to do so. From dealing with bullies to coping with their parents’ divorce, children will encounter stress in life. Instead of trying to shelter them from stress, teach them effective strategies to handle it.
Pro-Tip: A good night’s rest, proper diet, and exercise can help them cope with stress. It can also be helpful to identify some go-to coping strategies. Spend a day creating self-care toolboxes. Decorate the boxes and fill them with uplifting items, such as a list of positive affirmations, a favorite movie, or a soothing blanket.
5. Model Gratitude
Grateful people have a more optimistic outlook on life. Optimism helps kids stay focused on the positive aspects of a situation rather than dwelling on the negatives. You help them develop optimism by being a more grateful person yourself. Express gratitude to the people in your life often.
Pro-Tip: Another option is to incorporate a new practice at mealtimes or bedtime in which everyone shares three things they are grateful for. By conditioning themselves to purposely look for the good in life, children are more likely to persist during tough times.
6. Rely on Natural Consequences
Let’s say a student keeps forgetting to put their name on assignments, causing them to not get credit for their work. Such situations often serve as teachable moments.
You don’t have to lecture or nag—the frustration of getting a bad grade will naturally lead to greater caution about writing their name in the future.
You might talk to the child about the situation and allow them to come up with ways they can prevent a similar outcome from re-occurring.
Overcoming adversity is a significant life skill that can’t really be taught overnight. However, when you learn to take advantage of the context of everyday events, you can help your child build resilience to stress and change.