5 Ways to Promote Resilience in Children
Resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ from adversity. It is a protective construct that helps children manage stress and feelings of uncertainty. Children who are resilient adapt to adversity and thrive. So as you can see, it’s a very protective construct and one that should be encouraged. With that in mind, here are 5 ways in which you can promote resiliency:
1. Encourage and believe in them
Positive parenting is associated with the development of resilience. Positive parenting simply means encouraging children from an early age, by highlighting their abilities and helping them feel valued and “good enough”. This is very simple to do – let children know how much they are loved and always highlight their strengths. Children cannot get things right first time, all of the time (if ever!), and this can be hard for them (and parents!). However, what this does is provides a wonderful opportunity to be their cheerleader by for example; highlighting what they are doing well and praising the effort they are applying (even if they are not getting it quite right). By doing this you will refocus their attention, highlight their abilities during times of stress and encourage them to persist! Being supportive during times of stress and adversity also gives the message that adults are safe, encouraging and predictable – which will increase the likelihood that children will seek help and support when they need it.
Another way to help children feel that you believe in them is to give them responsibility and choice in life, for example; responsibility for jobs in home. Encouraging children to do things for themselves, where they can, also provides a sense of mastery. All of which are associated with confidence and self-esteem.
A final way in which you can communicate to children that you believe in them and their capabilities, is to problem solve with them about challenges they are having, rather than jumping in and “fixing it”. Encourage children to think of a solution themselves and even if they offer a “silly” solution – praise it! When children are offering a solution it means that they are thinking for themselves and trying their hardest – and this always deserves praise! Involving children in the problem solving process communicates some very important messages for example; that you believe in them, that you believe that their ideas are valuable and that you believe they are capable.
2. Listen emphatically
Being empathic means to put yourself in another’s shoes and this can be a challenge. It can be hard to take on a child’s perspective and this is partly because of the experience that is gathered in life. Adults have the benefit of experience – for example; when your child comes home upset because their friend is not talking to them, you know that in all likelihood they will be friends again in the morning. However, your child doesn’t – at that moment they truly believe that they will never be friends again, and this is devastating. Children also experience emotions more intensely, so this adds to the distress. All such factors make it so difficult to truly empathise with children – but not impossible!
A good start is to listen, truly listen and give time when children talk. We often listen to respond, rather than listen to truly understand. A way to show that you are listening to understand, is to resist the urge to “fix it” or give advice. Sometimes, all a child needs is to feel heard and to feel that they are not alone. Have you ever tried to tell a friend something when your upset and they straight away jump to; “why don’t you do this?” or “when that happened to me I did this”- it can be so frustrating for us, as adults – imagine what it is like for a child who can’t reason why the person isn’t listening i.e. it’s not that their not worth listening to, it’s because their loved! The experience of feeling heard gives the message – “I am worth listening to” and builds confidence. Show children that you are truly listening by repeating back what they have said. By trying to name their feeling, you can further show that you understand their experience, and this also builds emotional literacy.
3. Find a child’s strengths and harness them
Having a sense of mastery and achievement is one of the most important things in the development of resilience. Having the belief that ‘I am competent’ is vital and the way to help this belief develop is to find a child’s strength and provide them with opportunities to excel and achieve that sense of mastery. This will also increase the likelihood that they will persist at tasks they find challenging as they will believe that they are able. So whatever it is – encourage it!
4. Teach children to be curious about mistakes
In life we are going to make mistakes and it’s important that children know that it’s okay to do so. We can only learn from mistakes by being curious and reflecting – feelings like shame, anger and anxiety shut down the reflection process and without reflection, we cannot learn. Teaching children to reflect on mistakes, problem solve and persist despite setbacks is so important in the development of resilience. Encouraging this process also teaches children that mistakes are not something to be feared, but instead opportunities to learn and develop competency – which in turn, increases the likelihood that they will try new things. So next time they make a mistake, reflect on it… what did they do well, what did they learn from it, what could they do different next time? and remember – no contribution is a bad or silly contribution!
5. Provide structure, routine and predictability
This allows children to experience the world as predictable and safe, which in turn, allows children to explore the world, develop their skills and build confidence. Having clear rules and expectations, does not mean you have to control everything – you can still give children choices for example; it’s time for bed, do you want to get ready for bed or brush your teeth first? This ensures that you maintain a boundary while giving a sense of choice and control – both of which are associated with resilience.