As children grow, they will encounter stress from time to time. That is unavoidable in life. And for this reason, building resilience in children and equipping them with the skills to cope is essential in parenting. Protecting them from hurt and stress, although done with love, is not sustainable for the whole of their life. As well as modeling resilience, it is important to have an open dialogue with your children on how they feel and why. They will become upset about many things. Make sure you discuss this, why they feel that way, and how to manage and accept those emotions. There is rarely a need to provide additional experiences for your child as their usual friendships and time at school give more than enough. The main thing is reflecting on those they have and using these to help talk about reasonable expectations and what to do if these things were to happen again. Here we discuss developing resilience and why it’s important. I believe many children are fundamentally more resilient than we give them credit for and can do amazing things. Look at this example of 5-year-olds traveling across London.
Practically, one of the most common early determinants of raising resilient children is having at least one loving and supportive parent or caregiver mindfully present in their lives. The love and support this single parent or caregiver provides acts as a scaffold against environmental conditions that seek to disturb the child’s development. However, a child who didn’t get the love and support of a parent or caregiver in early childhood can still learn resilience. According to research that looked into early childhood relationships and the roots of resilience, early relationships are exceptional but not determinative. If your child had a shaky start, it is never too late to help them. Sensitivity and empathy are important things for all children to have. However, being oversensitive and being unable to manage emotions can cause very negative feelings of being overwhelmed. Resilience is one of the key components of genuine happiness.
Difference Between Resilience and Grit
Some parents often use grit and resilience interchangeably, but they mean two different things. It is essential to understand the difference so that you can be intentional in the way you go about instilling them in your child. In a resource titled The Road to Resilience, created by The American Psychological Association (APA), the contributors define resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors.” Simply put, resilience is your child’s ability to bounce back from adversities that threaten their development.
But grit is an entirely different phenomenon. Angela Lee Duckworth, founder and CEO of Character Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance scientific insights that help children thrive, defines grit as “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.” Grit is about a sustained effort in the face of challenges and struggles for an extended period. But this definition aside, to recognize grit more accurately, here are two real-world examples.
- Grit is when your child refuses to give up even when their karate instructor has labeled them as average. Instead of giving up, your child puts on deliberate effort over a period of time until he or she gets better at it. Resilience is when your child can take the negative emotions that come with the instructor’s comment and put them in context without collapsing into an emotional mess.
- Your child is passionate about literature and has started scribbling, showing his or her writing to better readers. He or she joins an online literary community to share space with others who aspire to be good writers. But every work your child sends out has been met with rejection. Resilience is seeing these as opinions and being able to use them constructively for improvement. Grit is the action of keeping trying to produce new work and refine the old ones.
The Benefits of Building Resilience in Children
What makes resilience even more valuable is that adversity is a natural part of living. Children with resources to cope with adversities are more likely to get off to a good start in life. Below are some benefits of raising a resilient child.
- Fosters a growth mindset. When some children fail, they quickly put it behind them, but others might crumble from minor setbacks. What sets these two categories of children apart is what the American psychologist Carol Susan Dweck refers to as the growth mindset. Those with a growth mindset quickly bounce back, while those with a fixed mindset struggle. A child with a growth mindset is more resilient because they maintain a positive outlook despite current adversities.
- Enables a positive outlook. Resilience helps your child maintain that cool that keeps them from seeing everything in a negative light. Instead of focusing on the negative traits, they focus on the positive, which prevents a downward spiral and lack of confidence. This is the result of all the times you reinforced their strength as you sought to build resilience. With internet safety being important and cyberbullying children need to be more resilient here.
- Cope and manage their emotions. Resilient children are more equipped to handle their emotions during and after stressful events. Knowing what the goal is, a resilient child can keep working towards their goals. With resilience comes the willingness and skills to sort through emotions like disappointment and anger. Grief is a fact of life, with resilience your child will be more resilient to it.
- Builds confidence and improves performance in school. Through resilience, your child can be more self-confident. More self-confidence translates to a feeling of hope and optimism. And with an increased sense of hope and optimism, your child is generally happier with his or her life. Accordingly, this contentment leads to improved academic performance. This is because they take on more tasks and more risks, undeterred by the prospect of failure.
- Promotes a willingness to ask for help. A resilient child feels deeply connected to their social cycle. This includes friends, grandparents, teachers, mentors, nannies, siblings, parents, and other relatives. He or she feels the love of the people around them and is more likely to reach out to them for help. Resilience helps your child understand when they can’t get through adversity on their own.
How to Build Resilience in Children
As a parent, early childhood is a crucial time to start building resilience in your child. This gives them the resources and protections they need to acquire the adaptive tools to help them in times of adversity. Below are some tips on how to build resilience.
- Expand your child’s love circle. Several studies suggest the presence of one caregiver for building resilience in children. But it doesn’t stop there. To foster resilience in your child, expand their love and support circle. The more love and support he or she gets, the better. Research has linked greater social support to several developmental milestones, including resilience, motivation, self-esteem, predictability, and self-regulation. How to develop social skills in your child.
- Encourage them to practice mindfulness. To be mindful is always to be aware of one’s emotions, thoughts, and experiences. This practice alters how the brain works functionally and structurally, causing your child to respond to stress more healthily. It does this by strengthening the part of the brain responsible for calm and reducing activity in the part of the brain that is instinctive. Children can learn mindfulness through activities like mindful smelling, mindful walks, and guided meditation. Although this might sound a bit ‘alternative’ and is sometimes presented as such, it is simply about self-awareness.
- Promote exercise. Sleep is essential for being resilient. Exercise makes the brain more resilient to stress and adversity by strengthening it. Workouts don’t have to be organized sports. Every child should do sport even if not sporty. If it is unstructured, it allows your child some downtime and not feeling they have to ‘perform’ and be judged. All your child needs is the free reign to step out and run against the rush of the wind. Just give him or her some time to play outside. There are a lot of games you can subtly encourage your child to play. The importance of doing things with your children.
- Be willing to accept their mistakes and losses. Being willing to accept mistakes and losses is crucial to building resilience in your child. This tells them that losses are not the end of the world and one should carry on. Keep trying to learn new things instead of hiding away. It also helps your child learn not to personalize losses and mistakes by blaming and criticizing themself too much. But you should encourage your child to reflect, learn, and move on in that order.
- Encourage them to think independently by asking questions. Every parent’s instinct is to help their child when they’re struggling with something. But always stepping in to rescue your child doesn’t build resilience. It teaches your child to be over-reliant on you or anyone around them. Therefore, encourage them to think independently when they’re struggling with a situation. For example, if your child struggles to answer a particular maths question, steer them to a YouTube video rather than talking them through it. This is not you offloading that responsibility but instead showing them how, and the confidence, to solve their own problems.
- Strengthen emotional connection. The importance of a solid emotional connection with your child can hardly be overstated. Remember that an emotional connection is something intense. They need to feel your love and support in various ways. One way to do this is to spend real quality time with them. During these times, you have to be mindfully present in the moment, engaged in whichever activity you’re spending time on. Be willing to talk about the mundane little things to then be able to talk about the more significant issues. How to develop a meaningful relationship with your child.
Final Thoughts on Developing Resilience in Your Child
In the aftermath of a traumatic event, your child will require help to put it behind them, even if you’ve long been providing them with protective experiences. Just don’t leave them to deal with it on their own. According to research led by Erin Reuther, a Pediatric Clinical Psychologist at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, three factors that promote resilience after a traumatic event are individual, situational, and caregiver variables. What this means is that you have a part to play as a parent. Your availability and sensitivity to your child’s emotional needs are essential during this time. Practical ways to help your child after a traumatic event include returning to regular routines, and establishing a sense of safety by putting the world back in that context where your child knows it to be generally safe. As well as helping them in this situation, you are also structuring what resilience looks like so they can do this on their own as they get older.