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How to Raise a Resilient Child: A Definitive Guide

Why do some people cope better with stress than others? How do people overcome challenging circumstances- even if they encounter failure after failure- without feeling discouraged or hopeless? Better yet, what is grit made of- and why do some have more of it than others?

The answer, in many ways, comes down to resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back, overcome difficult challenges, and build long-term strength.

As a parent, instilling resilience in your child is one of the best gifts you can give. It sets them up for an ideal future. Here's how it works and what you need to know.

How to Help Your Child Build Resiliency

Resilience refers to one's ability to recover and cope with adversity. This is a broad definition, but it essentially measures how well you take care of yourself despite difficult situations.

Research shows this trait isn't necessarily fixed; with effort and intention, people can build and develop resilience. As a parent, you can promote this in work in age-appropriate ways with your kids.

Think about it- from the moment your child is born, they encounter stress. They are crying and helpless, and the feelings associated with being alive feel completely foreign. Children, as you know, stay relatively helpless during their early years. In their own ways, they encounter all types of stress, and they often rely on adults to help them fix their pain.

Most parents have good intentions when it comes to raising resilient children. But children need confidence that they can handle adversity. They also need to know how to navigate and engage in problem-solving.

You can still love your child and let them struggle and face challenges. Here are some tips:

Cultivate a Supportive Home Environment

Never underestimate the benefits of a loving foundation. This is one of the best ways you can promote a child's resilience. If a child feels secure in their family, they are more likely to have healthy self-esteem and a good sense of autonomy. They trust they can explore the world, knowing that their caregiver will be there should issues arise. This supportive trust often transcends into relationships with other relatives, friends, and teachers.

Ideally, you want to focus on building a secure attachment with your child. Attachment starts in infancy, but it can evolve and strengthen over time.

Attachment matters in all parts of parenting, and you can focus on it by:

Learning your child's cues: Someone else might not be able to distinguish your newborn's cries. But over time, you probably start to learn which cry signifies hunger and which one signifies feeling tired. These cues progress over the years, as you attune to your child's needs and feelings. Although you may not always get it right, the more you can intuit your child, the more understood they will feel.

Listening deeply: Try to avoid distractions and be present when your child talks. If you can't give them your undivided attention at that moment, let them know exactly when you will be ready. When you listen, try not to make assumptions or interrupt. Instead, let them lead and ask clarifying questions if you don't understand something. Never make fun of or talk about young children as if they can't hear you.

Be Consistent (and Flexible)

It may sound counterintuitive, but you can help a child develop resilience by maintaining a sense of ongoing routine. At the same time, you don't want to be so rigid that there's no room for them to be free to enjoy themselves- or enjoy a sense of spontaneity in life.

Striving for consistency: Children thrive with routines and predictability, and harnessing that makes it easier for them to rely on you. If things feel chaotic, they may withdraw or act out because they don't know if the home (or the parent) is a safe place.

Staying open-minded and curious: Do not parent the child you want. Parent the child you have and try to deal with the specific situations handed to you. Be curious about who your kids are, what they like, and what they value. Even from a young age, children can tell when their parent wishes they were someone else. They often feel neglected, resentful, or insecure as a result.

Aiming to be warm and loving: Children want to be comforted by their parents when they experience distress. Young children don't necessarily get upset at you when you dismiss their feelings. Instead, they get upset at themselves and assume they did something wrong or overreacted. Even if the situation seems irrational to you, it's very real to your child. So aim to be present and attentive during tantrums, meltdowns, or frustrating moments. You don't have to be a perfect, stoic robot, but you should convey a sense of unconditional love.

Developing enjoyable family rituals: Children love knowing that their families are dependable. They also love to feel like they know what to expect during a specific situation. Collaborate together to develop rituals and celebrations that feel meaningful to everyone. Be sure to get your child's input in these discussions- it's key they feel involved.

Teach Emotional Regulation Skills

It's a misconception that resilient people are always tough. Instead, they're often just masters of their own emotions. They know how to recognize when they feel anxious, ashamed, or lonely. But they proactively manage their feelings instead of letting them define their emotional well-being. The resilience, therefore, lies in their ability to react in healthy ways.

Parents can play an influential role in teaching their children strategies to help regulate their emotions. You can start this education as soon as they are born, but you should reinforce these skills throughout their childhood. Here are some tips:

Identify emotions: Even with young children, it's key to start labeling emotions. For example, if your son cries because you told him he couldn't have any more cookies before dinner, you might say, It looks like you're sad right now. You're sad that it's time to go to school.

Talk openly about another person's emotions: Discuss the emotions you observe when watching shows, reading books, or even spending time out and about together. You could say, That little girl is yelling NO to her mother. She seems angry she can't have that toy right now.

Model talking about your own emotions: Don't shy away from sharing how you feel. For example, if your teen daughter yells at you and calls you dumb, you might say (in a calm voice), I feel really sad about that insult. Do you get sad when people criticize you?

Model positive coping skills for managing emotions: Remember that your children are always watching you! So, you want to make a consistent and genuine effort to model how you cope with difficult situations. For example, you might say, I'm feeling sad right now, so I'm going to take a bath because that always makes me feel better. Or, I'm tired, so I'm just going to rest and read on the couch.

Teach your child bodily sensations: Start teaching your child how to recognize specific sensations in their body. For example, discuss how they might feel "hot" when they're angry or experience fluttering in their stomachs when they feel anxious. If you see your child starting to get worked up, you might ask, What do you feel in your body right now? What sensations do you notice? Can you put words to how you feel?

Ask them to identify their favorite coping skills: Invite them to share how they can manage emotions with you. Consider having them write out a list and refer to it when needed. The next time you notice them using a skill, praise them for making that proactive choice.

Acknowledge and Apologize When You Engage in Negative Coping Responses

Maybe you yelled at your child when you got upset. It happens- life gets stressful, and you are only human. Fostering resilience isn't about teaching everything perfectly.

But these moments provide excellent teaching opportunities for reviewing how to "come back" from a less-than-ideal performance. You might say, I'm so sorry I yelled at you earlier. I was feeling angry, but that doesn't make my behavior okay. I love you- can I give you a hug?

Resilience means owning up to mistakes, stepping up to uncomfortable challenges, and being willing to work for a brighter future.

Foster Competence and Confidence: Embrace the Ability to Bounce Back

Think about how good it feels when you excel at something. At that moment, everything seems to align, and you feel confident and capable. This positive feeling can reinforce itself. The more competent you feel, the more likely you are to take risks and trust yourself.

Competence starts with children learning about cause and effect. A toddler, for instance, learns that throwing their toy may get their parent's attention. That feels good! But if the parent takes away the toy or ignores the child's behavior altogether, that doesn't feel so great. The child eventually learns not to throw the toy.

Competence, of course, becomes more complex as children become more skilled in solving problems and thinking independently. As they grow, they must learn to plan, set goals, and challenge themselves. Parents can reinforce these essential skills in many ways by:

Assigning them tasks and responsibilities: A child needs ample opportunity to practice new skills and become self-sufficient. Therefore, avoid coddling or enabling your children to rely on you for everything. From a young age, children can be given chores (cleaning up toys, picking out their clothes, etc.). As they grow, these tasks should become more developmentally mature (doing their laundry, helping cook dinner).

Encouraging them to try new things: Early resilience requires diversification. Kids are sponges, and they should frequently absorb new experiences and skills as they grow. Try to encourage their curiosity (without pushing them if they are extremely resistant). You will need to make some space for anxiety- both you and your child may feel nervous about the risk of failure. But raising resilient children means letting them make mistakes. You can't always help your child with every struggle in life.

Acknowledging their inherent worth: Praise can be good, but you don't want to only focus on your child's external accomplishments. Children naturally want to please their parents- if their worth is tied up in what they do, they may struggle with control and perfectionism. Make a genuine effort to reiterate how much you love them and how grateful you are to be their parent.

Embrace Natural Consequences

It can be hard to watch your child struggle, and most parents want to shield their children from pain.

Do you give your toddler another snack after they threw the first one on the ground? Do you yell at your teenager incessantly to do their homework (and then fix their mistakes on the assignment)? Do you give your adult child rent money after they impulsively quit their job?

If so, you may need to reconsider your safety net. Natural consequences teach children how to behave in society. If they know you will always rescue them, they might become entitled, confused, or dependent on others for success.

Encourage, Forward-Focused Optimistic Thinking

You can't have resilience without optimism. Resilient people aren't naive, but they generally believe things work out. Better yet, they can often reframe bad moments to find the silver lining. Here are some ways you can foster this mindset for your child.

Model optimistic thinking yourself: If you're always cynical, how can you expect your children to behave any differently? Instead of saying, I'm so bad at cooking, you might say, Oh no! I burned the potatoes. This is a new recipe, and I know what I need to do differently next time. I'll have to adjust the cooking time. What should we eat instead?

Encourage regular moments of gratitude: Practicing gratitude generally makes people feel calmer, happier, and more optimistic. Consider how you can integrate more appreciation into your child's daily routine. For example, while having dinner, you might go around and ask everyone to share the best moment of their day. Or, before bedtime, you could ask your child to list three things they feel grateful for.

Help Your Child Challenge Negative Thoughts

You don't want to invalidate your child for feeling sad or angry or scared, but you can teach them how to redirect unhelpful thoughts.

For example, let's say your child comes home and says, Sarah isn't talking to me! She hates me. Nobody wants to be my friend. You might intervene by saying, That's so hard. I wonder if there's another explanation for what's going on? If your friend, Katie, was in this situation, what would you tell her?

This skill can help your child assess all kinds of situations and challenges. Instead of assuming they're doomed to the worst-case scenario, they develop a more rational thinking style.

How to Bounce Back (Even If Your Child's Mental Health Feels Discouraging)

Maybe you feel like you've tried everything when it comes to your child and your family's well-being. Maybe their mental health problems seem larger-than-life, and you aren't sure what to do next. Perhaps you're at a stage where you feel burnt out, discouraged, or worried that things will never get better.

We understand. We see you. We know how challenging parenting is, and we know that children come with complex and difficult needs.

At Mental Health Transitions, we pride ourselves on helping families overcome their difficult circumstances. We provide unique, one-of-a-kind support, and we are here to help you! Contact us today to learn more.

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