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Building Resilience in Children

Updated: Dec 21, 2022

Learn how to build resilience in kids and give them the ability to move on after conflict or some sort of a setback.

The Practice of Resilience

"How was school today?” Mom asked Peter."Fine,” came the inevitable response. Judging from the gentle smile on his face and his relaxed manner, it does indeed seem to have been a good day. Mom smiles inwardly. All is well, and so she lets it go. Yet, by leaving the conversation at that, she loses the opportunity to organically build some essential skills with Peter; skills like resilience. Huh? Resilience is the ability to move on after conflict or some sort of a setback. Peter had a good day at school. Why would Mom bother working on resilience building? For the same reason we practice a sport each day or engage in a hobby regularly -- to get better! Kids are faced with situations all the time that test their resolve. Getting a bad grade, being laughed at in class after answering incorrectly, being the last one chosen for a team during PE class, learning they weren’t invited to a party with their friends thanks to a photo posted on social media … the list goes on, and each of these situations has the ability to produce feelings such as sadness, anger or shame which can hurt a child’s self-confidence and self-esteem. They may shut down, withdraw, lash out, or “lose” themselves in an effort to fit in. Whether they stop with these reactions, over time believing they are not good enough, or are able to pick themselves back up and keep going knowing they are good enough - despite how others act - is the resilience factor.

How Do You Build Resilience?

Resilience is a life-long practice. Practice during the good times helps us remember it as a tool during the tough times too. Why? Quite simply because regular practice helps create a habit. In this case, we want to help children build the habit of pausing, evaluating, and asking now what? (PEN).

P - Pause. Begin by taking time each day with your child to review the events of the day. What felt good? What didn’t feel good? When pausing on his/her own, teach your child to take a few deep breaths first.

E - Evaluate. Once you’ve identified the outcome, whether positive or negative, ask your child, "Are you proud of how you responded to this situation? Why or why not?” The point is NOT to lay blame or determine what “should’ve” been done. Remember, we can’t control how another person acts. The point of this practice is to help your child see they do have control over their own actions. Help them see which of their actions help create a positive result they feel proud of. Similarly, talk through alternate options for next time if they aren’t so proud of how they acted in a certain situation. Part of the purpose for evaluating is to help your child move into the logical brain in an effort to interrupt the emotional reaction which can inhibit decision-making.

N - Now What? Once they’ve evaluated what happened, is there an opportunity to do anything else that will help the situation - or help how your child feels about it? If so, what’s the best way to go about it?

How About An Example?

"How was school today?” Mom asked Peter."Fine,” came the inevitable response.“Super! Sit down and tell me what made it so good.” Peter was resistant to this practice at first. It seemed silly, and he didn’t really want to talk about stuff with his mom. She didn’t push, but she was consistent about taking time to talk about each day — even if the first few weeks felt more like an interrogation than a conversation!

Now Peter talks more freely. “I got an 83% on my math test. I was disappointed the grade wasn’t higher because I studied. But my teacher reminded me last time I had a 75% so my studying must have helped. That made me feel a little better. I’ll keep studying and shoot for an even higher grade next time. I tripped in the cafeteria and spilled my drink. Jill made fun of me and all of the kids at her table laughed at me. I was really embarrassed and mad too. But I took a deep breath and looked at her and just said, 'What? Like you’ve never tripped?’ and walked away. I was kinda mean to James though when he came to sit with me. I realized I was still feeling bad from Jill and took it out on him even though he didn’t do anything, so I apologized to him. We were okay after that. One of the little kids dropped her book bag walking to pick up at the end of the day. I helped her. Then it was time to come home!”

There was a time when Peter would have lashed out and reacted angrily to most of these situations. Over time, he’s learned he doesn’t have to wait to get home; he can practice PEN all throughout the day which is helpful to him in figuring out how to respond to things in the moment.

Building resilience may be a lifelong practice, but the more tangible tools we teach children when they’re young, the more we empower them in strengthening this essential skill.---Have a story of your own to share? Or perhaps a question or two? Send me an email and let's chat. I'd love to hear from you!

Categories: parenting resources, confidence

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