Tips for improving resilience in children
About the author
Dr. Sonia Rupp is a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Barton Health.
What is resilience? The term originated from engineers and is related to materials that are able to bend, stretch or compress and then return to their original shape after being stressed.
In regards to human nature, it is the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult situations or adversity. Certain personality types and temperaments are naturally more resilient than others, but there is evidence that it can be learned or taught.
A Japanese proverb, “the bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists” points to advantages of being flexible with changes during challenging times.
Mistakes and adversities can be opportunities for learning and growth. Here are some strategies that help parents and children become more resilient:
Encourage self-discovery: Allow your children to try new things and let them experience the consequences of their decisions. Validate their feelings, but also help them see alternatives asking by questions like, “What would you do differently next time?”
Nurture a positive self-view: No one is perfect or expected to be perfect. By helping your children recognize their strengths, they can calm feelings of perfectionism. Encourage them to use their strengths to problem solve and learn from difficult situations.
Establish a routine: Having a regular routine instills a sense of safety and reinforces daily responsibilities. Routines also help give young ones the chance to acknowledge the need for flexibility and address adversity as being temporary.
Stay positive: When a problem arises, practice listening first, and be supportive and nonjudgmental. Instead of providing all the answers, help them problem solve by connecting consequences to decisions. Be sure to praise the things that they did well — even if it is simply to say, “Thank you for talking to me about this.”
Set goals: Short and long-term goals can give direction when a problem arises. Help your child learn coping strategies by guiding them to focus on things they can change that work towards these goals — don’t ruminate on that which cannot change.
Make connections: Enlist young ones to help with projects around the home like cooking, gardening, or decorating. Let your meals together be a time for open discussion and connection — don’t allow phones or other distracting media at the table.
Embrace community: Prevent avoidance of others in areas that may have been problematic in the past. Socialize with people you trust and connect young ones with their community. Encourage older children to help others through community service or volunteering.
Teach by example: You can teach coping strategies and stress management skills to your children by showing them healthy ways to deal with adversity. Teach them to take deep breaths as a first step to calm emotions and help think through problems. Demonstrate positive distractions with exercise, outdoor activities, art, music, a hobby or meditation.
Learning healthy coping strategies can reduce stress and improve mental health as well as improve resilience over time. Teaching those strategies to your children will help them gain resilience that will help their mental health into adulthood.
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