When talking about what children need to learn to help them develop into healthy adults, there’s a fancy word that’s become popular in recent years. It’s “resiliency.”
In simple terms, that means the ability to bounce back when something unexpected or difficult happens in our lives. We know every life is filled with setbacks, disappointments, painful moments, and even trauma, and a key characteristic of people who are emotionally strong is their ability to recover from those situations and move forward to the next challenge. In other words, it’s how we get back to whatever we consider to be normal.
We become resilient as a result of our life experiences, and that starts in childhood. Each time we encounter a difficult situation, how we respond and the results our response creates shapes how we’ll approach the next one.
Think of resilience like a muscle that gets stronger with use, and with support from caring communities. Each time we get past a difficult situation — whether we conquer it, find a way around it, or just plain get knocked down — we learn from it and are better able to tackle the next. Know that Kelly Clarkson song about what doesn’t kill us making us stronger? That’s an example of resilience.
Developing resilience helps us keep a sense of balance during stressful times in our lives. It protects us from experiences that could damage us, and it can even reduce the likelihood of developing some mental health issues. Research shows people who are resilient get sick less often and miss less work and school, they’re less likely to engage in dangerous behavior like substance abuse, and they tend to be physically healthier.
So how can we help children develop resiliency? One of the best ways is encouraging them to try new things and supporting them when those things don’t work out. If your child doesn’t make the youth soccer team, they’re going to be upset. If you want them to become resilient, you’ll allow them to feel that way and help them understand what they might do differently in the future. Know what doesn’t build resiliency? Yelling at the coach or telling the child the coach is an idiot. And when kids do succeed, let them know you’re proud.
Parents want to protect kids from bad moments, and that’s understandable. But those bad moments often include valuable lessons that strengthen us. Instead of trying to “fix” things, let them know you understand how they feel and that it’s okay to be upset for a little while, but they need to start moving forward.
The very best way to teach your kids resiliency is to model it yourself. Your behavior and emotions when you encounter setbacks send clear signals to your kids. If you yell and swear when things don’t go your way, guess what they’re going to do? In the same way, if you handle a disappointment by being sad for a moment and then moving forward, they’ll learn that’s what adults do.
Not sure how to help your kids become resilient? Our professional counselors can provide basic strategies that will not only help them respond the right way, but also help you get better at dealing with setbacks. Why not call us today to learn more?
Jared Jones is one of Care to Change’s therapists. He focuses on helping teens who have faced challenges find the guidance and support needed to become healthy adults. Jared specializes in helping youth who are anxious, depressed, and even suicidal.