No matter how comfortable we get in the drab routine of daily life, there is always the possibility that Chance herself will hurl a large, disruptive wrench into the gears. Despite not knowing where, when, or how, it’s a fact that destabilizing, unpredictable events are paradoxically a certainty in life.
When trying to impart our own experience and wisdom to our children, we need to make sure we cover resiliency. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines resiliency as “the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.”
We all want the best for our children, but it’s impossible to be with them 100% of the time. The rules of modern life simply don’t allow for this. We can’t follow them through class or on the playground. We can’t chase after them through college and beyond.
Instead, we have to teach them how to be resilient so they can stand on their own—independently and unabashedly—when things don’t go according to plan. This article will break down some ways you can begin to teach resiliency to your children from an early age.
Let’s dig in!
How Do Psychologists Define Resiliency?
According to the APA, various factors play into a person’s ability to be resilient in the face of hardship and adversity. It’s important to outline these because part of your job as a parent is to model appropriate behavior. You can’t teach resiliency if you aren’t able to model it.
Some factors that influence a person’s resiliency:
- A person’s worldview and outlook on their position in life
- How a person engages with their environment and community
- The public, private, and familial resources available to that person
- The resiliency skills a person develops through life
Certain factors—like economic status or access to social resources—are not directly under a person’s control. However, a person does have more control over their worldview and any resiliency skills they develop through experience. This article will focus on the factors that a person has more control over.
So, without further ado:
How Can Children Learn to Be Resilient?
The following tips are designed to show your child that they are an active agent in the world. These suggestions will encourage your child to take charge, learn practical communication skills, and establish integrity. They will challenge your child’s perspectives and help their mind grow.
Teach Your Children How To Make Connections and Communicate
Effective communication skills are essential for getting and receiving help, resolving conflicts, and establishing healthy boundaries. Part of being resilient is knowing when you need to ask for help.
Building and maintaining a support network through friends at school and among other adults—like coaches, teachers, and neighbors—gives your child added security if you can’t be there for them.
Some easy ways you can start:
- Have your child order food for the table at a restaurant
- If they are old enough, give them tasks that require them to engage with peers or neighbors
- Encourage them to make a new friend
- Teach them to use ‘I messages’ when expressing themselves
- Work out family conflicts through dialogue and open communication
Encourage Your Child To Help Others and Be a Problem Solver
Another way to encourage resiliency in your child is to be ‘hands off’ when it comes to solving small or mundane problems. ‘Hands off’ doesn’t mean negligent here. In fact, you should be very engaged with their issue—but you shouldn’t solve it for them.
Let’s say your child lost a toy, and you happen to know where it is. When they come to you for help, you have two options. You can (1) go find it for them or (2) encourage them to problem solve.
Have them think back to where they last had it and suggest ways they could comprehensively search for it. By taking this route, you instill self-reliance and problem-solving skills in your child.
If they have a knack for problem-solving, encourage them to help their friends with their problems. Doing so teaches them to communicate and provides an opportunity for them to try out a leadership role.
Encourage Them To Stick To a Schedule
Part of being resilient comes from managing your own affairs, even under stress. By helping them develop a routine when things are going well, you are making it more likely that they can manage a routine when things aren’t going well.
You can start simply by helping them keep a calendar. Write down school time, sports, music lessons, and other activities to help them get a sense of weekly time management. Keeping a daily planner will help them with day-to-day time management.
Teach Your Child Effective Self-Care Skills
It is also vital that you teach your child about the importance of self-care. They need to hear that self-care is an important way to mitigate the adverse effects of stress—and they need to hear it from an authority figure.
Many children are still taught to ‘grin and bear it’ when situations are overwhelming and stressful. However, toiling to the point of burnout is not resiliency. True resiliency is knowing when your stress levels are reaching their practical limits. It’s knowing when to take a step back and disengage for your own mental health.
To do this, encourage your child to journal or keep a record of their feelings. Not just how they feel, but what triggers them to feel certain things. Raising a child’s emotional awareness not only helps them address their own emotions but helps them build empathy as they recognize signs of distress in others.
Help Your Child Establish Goals
Part of being resilient is recognizing the power within oneself to create positive changes. One way to encourage agency in your child is to help them establish short-term and long-term goals and have them work toward meeting them.
Part of this process involves chasing your child’s interests. Maybe your child likes a particular sport. In this case, a short-term goal might be helping them join a team. A longer-term goal might be trying out for a regional or state team.
Helping your child envision the path toward their goals teaches them that there are particular steps they can take toward actualizing their goals.
Impart the Wisdom of the Stoics
One of the founding principles of stoicism is radical acceptance. Accepting that there are some things you can’t change is also an essential part of being resilient. By not wasting energy or time on the things that can’t be changed, you are helping your child allocate their mental resources more effectively.
For example, let’s say your child wanted to try out for a sports team, but they sprained their ankle a day before the try-outs. The doctor recommended that they rest for a few weeks, which means they have to wait until the next try-outs.
This injury is something that happened and cannot be changed. Though frustrating and painful, try to help your child recognize that many things are outside of our control.
We can really only control the way we react to circumstances that are basically uncontrollable. This is a tough lesson to learn, but it is crucial for developing resiliency.
Both You And Your Child Can Learn to Be Resilient
This list is by no means exhaustive. There are many more ways you can help your child develop resiliency. Perhaps by helping your child learn to be resilient, you can also learn to be more resilient.
Jenn Walker is a freelance writer, blogger, dog-enthusiast, and avid beachgoer operating out of Southern New Jersey. She writes for Maryville, an addiction treatment center specializing in medication-assisted treatment and providing resiliency resources for family members of people with addiction.