Growing up can be hard. Children are faced with the tasks of learning to make sense of the world around them, adapting to inevitable changes, and within all that, trying to find a sense of belonging. Some children seem to navigate through serious life challenges easily, while others get overwhelmed by small changes. Resilience makes a big difference in how one responds to challenges, whether it be every day stress or life’s more serious adversities. Children who are resilient learn that they are able to handle problems yet know when to reach out for help. They experience more happiness in relationships, have a more positive outlook on life, get sick less often, experience more success in school, and are less likely to experience depression. Building resilience is teaching kids to bounce back from life’s hardships so that they can continue to grow and have the opportunity to thrive.
Resilience isn’t about staying one step ahead of the challenges we may face in life in the hopes of preventing hardships. Try as we might, we are not able to shield children from getting hurt, feeling disappointed, or getting stuck. Something to consider is that children are already born with the capacity for resilience. This is likely why they do not give up when they stumble countless times before learning to walk for the first time. They have an innate drive for growth. Part of our role as caring adults is to provide children with the skills to reach their potential and get through life’s obstacles.
Building more resilience in our children starts with a secure bond with a caring adult. In essence, this bond teaches children that they are loved unconditionally, they can trust others, and that the world is a safe place to explore. Through this relationship they are able to develop necessary coping skills and gain the confidence to explore their world. Knowing that they have a reliable, secure relationship to come back to with a responsive adult helps children feel safe and learn that their needs will be met. It also helps model how to form positive relationships with other caring people, making it easier to reach out to others for help. As they grow older, this caring relationship will become a big part of what helps them believe in themselves and trust that they can get through challenges in life.
Parents have the greatest advantage in building this caring relationship, but other adults in a child’s life can have a positive impact as well (coaches, teachers, family, etc.). Here are some tips on how to help build a caring relationship with a child to promote resilience.
- Empathize. Let children know you understand how they feel. Feeling understood creates safety in a child’s world. It also helps them learn to understand others and see things from another’s point of view.
- Identify feelings. Help them identify their feelings and develop healthy ways of expressing themselves. Feelings are natural and always have a good reason for showing up. We all experience them, no matter how big or small. By teaching your children to respect their feelings they are less likely to get overwhelmed by them.
- Soothe. Children need to know that they are not alone. Soothing or providing comfort can help them feel more connected, accompanied with their big feelings, and better able to learn healthy coping skills as they get older.
- Listen. At times we can be too quick to offer a solution when children are telling us a problem. Instead, let them share, reflect what you hear, and help guide them in coming up with their own solutions. Talking it out with a caring adult helps them process and strengthen problem-solving skills. Make eye contact when having conversations to let them know you are engaged and that what they have to say is important to you.
- Give affection. Whether it’s through verbal praise, high fives, smiles, or hugs. This affection lets children feel understood, loved, and secure.
- Play. Connect with your children on their level. Play is their natural way of communicating. You can learn much more from your children through play than through conversation. As much as possible, limit TV and tech time and opt for activities that help build your relationship like reading, turn-taking games, or playing outdoors.
- Storytelling. Use your own experience or read stories about people who move forward through change and challenges.
Children are capable of great things when provided an environment where they feel supported by their loved ones. Building resilience is an ongoing process, so you are never too late to start at any age.
-Written by Cristina Guevara, MA, Counsellor