How Do You Teach Children Resilience?
There’s no getting around it – sometimes, life is hard. It’s inevitable; what matters is how we deal with hard times. Resilience is exactly that – the ability to handle difficult setbacks, adjust appropriately, and keep striving toward living your best life. Helping your children develop resilience will serve them throughout the rest of their lives. Here, we’ll divide resilience into three categories: physical resilience, emotional/mental resilience, and social resilience.
When times are hard, stress levels can become elevated. Stress comes with a number of consequences, including physical symptoms like fatigue, pains, and digestive problems. Developing physical resilience is all about reducing the negative effects of stress with healthy habits.
Many of the traits of physical resilience will be developed through things you may well already be doing as a parent. Make sure your child is eating healthy, well-balanced meals every day. Encourage your child to exercise. To some degree, schools will help you with this through PE programs. There are, however, plenty of times when your child won’t be in school for one reason or another. Find physical activities they enjoy, and provide outlets for them to get exercise every day.
Sleep is another key component of physical resilience. Kids need a lot more sleep than adults; children from 6-12 should be getting 9-12 hours of sleep a night. The numbers are even higher for preschoolers. The benefits of sleep are honestly too vast to start detailing here; it helps every component of physical and mental health to get a good night’s sleep. Make sure your child’s activities are winding down early enough that they can get a good night’s rest. Explain to children who are old enough what the benefits of sleep are to encourage them to get to bed on time.
Mental and Emotional Resilience
Mental and emotional resilience are, in many ways, trickier to develop than physical resilience. One of the key elements of this type of resilience is the knowledge that you’ve suffered setbacks before and survived. This means that it’s imperative that you allow your child to make mistakes and learn from them – a scary thing for some parents to accept.
One of the most important concepts in resilience is locus of control, which can be either external or internal. When your locus of control is external, you feel like things are happening to you, while internal locus of control means you’re driving the action. For children, locus of control is often external – things really are happening to them that they have little or no control over. To help them develop resilience, you need to help them develop an internal locus of control.
Say your child comes to you with a problem – perhaps they’re being bullied, feeling overwhelmed by schoolwork, or any other number of things. Instead of simply asking them why they feel how they feel, ask them how they’re going to cope with the feelings. Don’t immediately provide an answer for them; instead, engage in a discussion with them about what they can do to solve their problems. Then, help them develop the tools to solve those problems themselves.
Help your child develop a positive view of themselves. They might keep a gratitude journal, highlighting the things they feel grateful to themselves for. You might talk about past struggles, how they overcame those struggles, and how those challenges made them stronger. Talk about their virtues, and highlight examples of times they were strong, smart, humble, caring, or any other number of wonderful traits they might have.
Context is essential to resilience; when you feel like a moment of struggle is going to last forever, it can be hard to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Talk to your children about the long-term, if they’re old enough to understand – even if they’re not, it can be helpful to introduce the idea early. When appropriate, laugh at yourself; remember that you’re modelling behaviour for your child. Mistakes are rarely that serious, and humour can be one of your most important allies when striving to become more resilient.
You should teach your child about self-care, too. Sometimes, when we’re stressed, it’s important to take a break, rest, and regain our strength. Whether it be through bubble baths or a day in pajamas, teach your child that some days, it’s okay to rest, relax, and rejuvenate.
There’s a tendency to think of resilience as a type of lone wolf trait; the ability to withstand blows with no one else to help you. While that’s a type of resilience, the best resilience can be found in well-developed social networks. Real friendships, the kinds where people will be at your side for no other reason than their love for you, are essential to developing resilience. When you can’t carry yourself, it’s good to have people around who can carry some of the weight for you until you recover.
Help your children develop social resilience by encouraging them to spend time with friends, and signing them up for extra-curricular activities. Remind them that their home is a safe haven, and that their family is there for them. The family is the social network your child will learn about first, so it’s important that the home is a safe place that fosters growth and understanding.
Kidthink is a mental health treatment center and outreach program that focuses on improving mental health and well being for children aged 12 and under in Manitoba.
Kidthink provides a model of care that includes psychologists, psychiatrists, and other professionals to create a truly multidisciplinary team that all works together to give the children and their families the highest standard of care.