As parents, our first instinct is to protect our children. From the moment they’re born, we do our best to keep them from harm. We listen to the research that tells us to put them to sleep on their backs, we have their car seats tested by an expert to make sure they’re installed correctly, we follow the latest advice about when to introduce solids and potential allergens.
As they get older, the things we protect them from change, but our instinct remains. We grip their hand tightly as we cross the street, we teach them stranger danger, we call out “Be careful!” as they dash across playground equipment.
How to Teach Children Resilience
While one of our greatest jobs as parents is to protect our kids, another one of our jobs is to make sure they are prepared for the world as they grow and become adults. Although it would be wonderful if we could keep them from experiencing anything that might hurt or be unpleasant for them, real life doesn’t work that way.
If we want to raise children who know what to do when they encounter difficulties of all kinds, we must teach them how to be resilient. According to the Oxford dictionary, resilience is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” A resilient child won’t give up at the first sign of struggle. She’ll push on when the going gets tough. He’ll learn that wallowing or quitting will not help him in the long run.
How do we raise resilient children? While some people are naturally more resilient than others, it doesn’t all happen on it’s own. With some intention, you can teach children resilience. Here’s how:
1. Allow them to take risks
Often when our children want to try something that might be a stretch for them, our automatic reply is, “No.” But kids who are never allowed to take risks, regardless of how big or small they are, will never get to experience the process that takes place during and after attempting that risk.
For instance, perhaps your child wants to climb the rock wall at the playground for the first time. As he climbs, he’ll probably come to certain places where he’s not sure where the next hand or foot hold will be. In order to move, he’ll have to find it, readjust to eventually keep climbing, or decide to head back down to the ground. Regardless of the outcome, whether he was successful in his climb or not, he’ll have learned some things for his next attempt.
2. Let them fail
If your child is never given the opportunity to fail, when she does end up failing (because eventually she will), she will have absolutely no coping mechanisms to deal with that failure.
Edutopia suggests teaching your children the ABCs of resilience. We often think that (A)dversity leads to (C)onsequences. However, if that were the case, everyone would handle adversity in the same exact way. The fact is, Adversity leads to (B)eliefs that lead to Consequences. If you teach your children how to frame a failure, it will help them shape the consequences of that failure.
For example, let’s say your child is trying to learn how to ride a bike, but falls off. That’s adversity. She then begins to think that she’ll never learn how to ride and it’s pointless to try. That’s belief. She never learns to ride a bike. That’s consequence. However, if she changes her belief to, “Wow, this is tough, but I just need to practice more until I get it,” the consequence will eventually change to her knowing how to ride a bike because her belief causes her to keep practicing.
3. Teach them to problem-solve
When faced with tough situations, kids need to have the skills to come up with solutions. Problem-solving is an important skill in building resilience, but it’s also an important life skill for all kinds of situations.
You can find tips for helping your child learn to problem solve in our article Problem Solving Strategies for Kids.
4. Build a strong relationship with them
According to Hey Sigmund, the adverse physiological effects of stress on a child can be reversed by the reliable presence of a responsive adult. By being a constant presence in your children’s lives and helping them cope with adversity, you’ll instill resilience.
5. Help them learn to control their emotions
While it’s important to teach your children that all emotions are valid, it’s equally important to teach them how to take control of those emotions. Teach your child to allow themselves to feel their feelings, then move into the stage of deciding what to do about the situation.
Teaching your children to be mindful can help them learn to control their emotions. They’ll begin to understand that how they feel physically is related to how they feel emotionally, which will help them develop coping skills to control their bodies and emotions.
Frustration is often at the root of anger or sadness. Teaching your children how to deal with frustration will help them learn to control their emotions as well.
6. Nurture their strengths
Teaching resilience isn’t all about letting your kids fail over and over until they figure out how to deal with it. By nurturing their strengths, you’re giving your children an opportunity to see what it feels like to succeed at something. Then when they experience setbacks, they’ll understand the feeling of accomplishment and joy that comes with facing something tough and making it past that thing.
Although it can be difficult to purposely let our children face adversity, it is vital to raising well-adjusted, resilient children who are ready to face the world ahead. You, and your children, have what it takes!