As a parent, one of the most important things you can do is to help your child learn to deal with the inevitable challenges that life brings. Children who can successfully manage the stressors that come into their life have lower rates of mental health issues, greater levels of happiness, and often have more success later in life.
Resiliency is the ability to cope successfully with the stresses of life. One definition of resiliency says it means “to suffer well.” While that may be a tad over dramatic, it does speak to your child making the most out of life’s difficulties.
Many of us think of resilience as something that we develop as individuals. While that is partially true, in children, it is a combination of individual factors as well as their environment that creates a sense of resiliency for them. Think of it as both an inside and outside job.
On the inside, the child needs to develop skills to be better able to realistically think through the challenges they experience.
As you can imagine, the child will have a very different internal experience if they say, “Why does this always happen to me?” rather than “What can I learn from this so it doesn’t keep happening to me?” The first thought leads to feelings of helplessness and inaction, while the second thought invites a closer examination and a set of actions to prevent future occurrences.
The outside experience is what we as parents can strongly influence. Children who have strong emotional ties to family and other supports are far more able to manage stressors. Does the environment at home encourage the child to take on appropriate challenges and process what is learned from those experiences? Does the home have structure, accountability, and a loving environment to support the growth of the child?
Although children can develop resiliency despite their backgrounds or environments, most children become resilient because of their surrounding supports that allow them to feel loved and capable.
Suggestions for Creating Resiliency
Here are some quick suggestions on how you as a parent can support your child becoming more resilient.
- Establish structure and predictability in your child’s environment. Children do best when they know what to expect and the rules don’t change based on the emotions of the moment. This can be done by having regular activities that the child engages in during the day and having discipline that is consistent and very clear.
- Reinforce your child for the effort they put into completing difficult tasks rather than praising them for the outcome. Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset, found in her research that children were better able to complete difficult tasks if they had a growth mindset (which focused on being challenged and the effort they put in) rather than a fixed mindset (which focused on the desired result).
- Relationships matter. Children who have a positive relationship with at least two supportive adults have greater resiliency than those with one or fewer. This makes sense as children learn about the world through their relationships and experiences. An adult that helps make sense of the world goes a long way toward the child being able to internalize their learning of how the world works.
Preferably one of those supportive adults are you as a parent, but if that is not possible at this time, extended family or an adult known to the child can also function in your stead.
Resiliency is a needed and necessary part of a child’s upbringing. I hope these small suggestions help you think more deeply on how to support your child’s capacity to be more resilient. This has become more important than ever.
A final thought. Remember this truism: Resilient parents create resilient kids. Don’t forget about the need to practice the same skills you want your child to do to get the best results. Your child is counting on it.
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This blog article was contributed by Luke Spiegelhoff, Clinical Director for Nexus-FACTS, an agency of Nexus Family Healing.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 45 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.