Building Resilience: Psychological Strategies for Helping Children Cope with Challenges

Resilience is the strength to overcome whatever life throws at you; and life, being what it is, will throw a proverbial ton of challenges your way throughout your existence. However, resilience doesn’t refer to just shrugging things off, that’s ignoring the things that happen to you. Not processing a feeling can be much worse than going through the rigors of challenges and perspectives and rising above the difficulties in life. Resilience isn’t the ability to ignore, it’s the ability to face what comes.

There are many ways someone might develop resilience. For example, anyone seeking nursing work could study in an FNP program in Texas, the academic rigors of such a course developing the student’s ability to weather tough situations inherent to nursing. However, it remains that the best time to develop resilience is during a person’s childhood, where their brains are more malleable and spongy.

So then, how can parents go about building resilience within their kids?

Tough, Not Toxic

There is a huge difference between being given life lessons, and abusing a child; even though many abusers seem to lack the wherewithal to see it. Does this sound like a familiar story to you?

You’re a child, and you’ve just accomplished something you’re proud of. You show it to your parents only for them to point out every single negative aspect, with zero praise or regard for your feelings at that moment. Were you constantly compared to other students, siblings, or even friends? Were you ever congratulated for your achievements, or were they only ever criticized? You might have won first place in a gymnastics tournament, but your parents still tell you that you need to work harder.

If any of this rings a bell you are facing a toxic parent/child dynamic called “hypercriticality” This is the constant nitpicking and criticism of everything a child does or attempts, usually to have that child meet a personal “standard” or to “prepare them for the world.”

However studies show that this style of parenting does not produce resilient, strong, or talented adults, it produces traumatized people. Criticizing children doesn’t make them tough, it robs them of a safe space and a caregiver. So if you don’t produce resilient people by raising them in the same way the world will view them when they’re older, how do you instill resilience in a child?

The Ties that Bind

The saying “blood is thicker than water” leaves out critical information. The original phrase was “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb,” meaning that the bonds we choose to cultivate are stronger than those we are born into. If your child has to face cruelty in the world, and then come home to criticism or neglect, they won’t be establishing that covenant with you.

Among the most effective ways to build resilience is to provide them with a safe and nurturing home. Remember, kids are sensitive, and rejections will seem and feel all the worse to them. They don’t understand the complexities and necessities of life yet, and raising them demands absolute patience. Building deep, and secure emotional bonds is necessary to building resilience. These bonds tell the child that no matter what, you’ll be there for them. They can weather any storm because their parents will be there for support and guidance.

Let Your Kid Explore The Things

Helicopter parenting is a seriously damaging dynamic. While most kids are fortunate to not grow up in this state of hyper-active, inappropriate parenting style, we can all relate to the anxiety of having a child. It’s a stressful situation, raising a kid, and there’s immense social pressure to be “perfect” at it; when the fact is that there is no such thing as a “perfect” parent.

The point is, don’t be afraid of letting your kids explore risks in minor ways. Encourage them to experiment outside of their comfort zone, but with activities that will result in either minimal or no injury in the event of failure. Preventing them from doing so narrows their comfort zone, and minimizes their sense of self-sufficiency.

man in black jacket and blue shorts holding green plastic bucket

Discuss, Don’t Fix

It’s only natural to want those we love to live in comfort. When there’s pain or emotional turmoil, it’s a natural reaction to want to fix it, to end the hurt as quickly as possible. The downside of that is, that you won’t always be able to fix everything; and fixing things for your kid doesn’t allow them to learn problem-solving, emotional regulation, and critical thinking skills that are all inextricably linked to resilience.

That being said, don’t be a Bean Dad.

Help Kids Understand Feelings

We all feel. The emotional experience is something everyone will have to deal with at some point. This may come as a surprise, but kids can’t rationalize or think the way that adults do. How often, in a sudden surge of anger, have you been able to catch yourself and rationalize that anger?

If you have trouble with it, why would you expect a child to do it perfectly?

Teaching kids how to identify and deal with emotions will teach them the vital skill of emotional regulation. If your kid starts to act out, instead of meeting them with anger and punishment, approach them from a place of firm understanding. “Why are you acting this way? Are you angry? Okay, it’s okay to feel angry, but it’s not okay to talk to [parent] that way, because that hurts my feelings and makes me angry too. Do you understand?”

From there, you can quiz the kid on what made them angry, and what they think would be a good way to deal with that feeling. This will familiarize children with their emotions, and help them learn about setting boundaries, and most importantly, regulating their emotional reactions and outbursts.

The Resilient Child

Parenting is tough, and if you want your kid to turn into a resilient, responsible, and kind adult it’s going to take a lot of investment on your part, making it all the harder. The great thing is that modern parenting techniques aren’t rooted in damaging stereotypes anymore. We don’t need to put our children through suffering or difficult situations to teach them independence or strength – we just need to create a safe space for them to learn that failure is okay, and can be recovered from. Once they know that, they’ll be ready for the world.

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