10 Tips for building resilience in children and teens

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We tend to idealize childhood as a carefree time, but youth alone offers no shield against the emotional hurts and traumas many children face.  Children can be asked to deal with problems ranging from adapting to a new classroom to bullying by classmates or even abuse at home. Add to that the uncertainties that are part of growing up, and childhood can be anything but carefree.  The ability to thrive despite these challenges arises from the skills of resilience. The good news is that resilience skills can be learned.

10 Tips for building resilience in children and teens

Building resilience — the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress — can help our children manage stress and feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.  However, being resilient does not mean that children won’t experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common when we have suffered major trauma or personal loss, or even when we hear of someone else’s loss or trauma.

We all can develop resilience, and we can help our children develop it as well.  It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned over time. Following are tips to building resilience.

  1. Make connections
    Teach your child how to make friends, including the skill of empathy, or feeling another’s pain.  Encourage your child to be a friend in order to get friends. Build a strong family network to support your child through his or her inevitable disappointments and hurts.  At school, watch to make sure that one child is not being isolated. Connecting with people provides social support and strengthens resilience. Some find comfort in connecting with a higher power, whether through organized religion or privately and you may wish to introduce your child to your own traditions of worship.
  2. Help your child by having him or her help others
    Children who may feel helpless can be empowered by helping others.  Engage your child in age-appropriate volunteer work, or ask for assistance yourself with some task that he or she can master.  At school, brainstorm with children about ways they can help others.
  3. Maintain a daily routine
    Sticking to a routine can be comforting to children, especially younger children who crave structure in their lives.  Encourage your child to develop his or her own routines.
  4. Take a break
    While it is important to stick to routines, endlessly worrying can be counter-productive.  Teach your child how to focus on something besides what’s worrying him. Be aware of what your child is exposed to that can be troubling, whether it be news, the Internet or overheard conversations, and make sure your child takes a break from those things if they trouble her.
  5. Teach your child self-care
    Make yourself a good example, and teach your child the importance of making time to eat properly, exercise and rest.  Make sure your child has time to have fun, and make sure that your child hasn’t scheduled every moment of his or her life with no “down time” to relax.  Caring for oneself and even having fun will help your child stay balanced and better deal with stressful times.
  6. Move toward your goals
    Teach your child to set reasonable goals and then to move toward them one step at a time.  Moving toward that goal — even if it’s a tiny step — and receiving praise for doing so will focus your child on what he or she has accomplished rather than on what hasn’t been accomplished, and can help build the resilience to move forward in the face of challenges.  Break down large assignments into small, achievable goals for younger children, and for older children, acknowledge accomplishments on the way to larger goals.
  7. Nurture a positive self-view
    Help your child remember ways that he or she has successfully handled hardships in the past and then help him understand that these past challenges help him build the strength to handle future challenges.  Help your child learn to trust himself to solve problems and make appropriate decisions. Teach your child to see the humor in life, and the ability to laugh at one’s self.
  8. Keep things in perspective and maintain a hopeful outlook  
    Even when your child is facing very painful events, help him look at the situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective.  Although your child may be too young to consider a long-term look on his own, help him or her see that there is a future beyond the current situation and that the future can be good.  An optimistic and positive outlook enables your child to see the good things in life and keep going even in the hardest times.
  9. Look for opportunities for self-discovery
    Tough times are often the times when children learn the most about themselves.  Help your child take a look at how whatever he is facing can teach him “what he is made of.”  Consider leading discussions of what she has learned after facing down a tough situation.
  10. Accept that change is part of living
    Change often can be scary for children and teens.  Help your child see that change is part of life and new goals can replace goals that have become unattainable.  In school, point out how your children have changed as they moved up in grade levels and discuss how that change has had an impact on the students.

Developing resilience is a personal journey and you should use your knowledge of your own children to guide them on their journey.  An approach to building resilience that works for you or your child might not work for someone else. If your child seems stuck or overwhelmed and unable to use the tips listed above, you may want to consider talking to someone who can help, such as a psychologist or other mental health professional.

Resiliency helps kids navigate the inevitable trials, triumphs and tribulations of childhood and adolescence.  Resilient kids also become resilient adults, able to survive and thrive in the face of life’s unavoidable stressors.


The full text of articles from the American Psychological Association. Please go to this link for the full English version.


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