Building Resiliency in School-Age Children

One of the best gifts we can give our children is to help them become resilient. For the purposes of this article, resiliency is defined as a child’s ability to succeed, thrive and overcome obstacles even when presented with hardships and setbacks.  It is an important developmental milestone, but resiliency often needs our help to fully develop in children.

There is research that points to the fact that some personalities and temperaments seem to have resiliency built-in. These are the children who seem to look at a problem as a challenge and seem to have a natural work ethic, optimism, and a problem- solving nature. Other children seem to struggle with resiliency and life’s obstacles. These children seem to be more pessimistic and use words like “it’s hard” or “this is annoying”.  Regardless of a child’s temperament, resiliency is a developmental milestone—the older the child, the more it is important to build or strengthen resilience.  A wise professor of mine once taught me “when in doubt, teach”.  So, here are some “teachable” ways to encourage resilience in our children.

  • Start with a definition of resiliency.  “Resiliency is when you work really hard and are successful even when things are really hard”.
  • Look for opportunities to talk about a growth mindset—new skills and abilities develop with effort.
  • Talk about people who are resilient or growth mindsets. It is important not just to talk about famous people or celebrities. Talk about people your family knows personally and how they approach or overcame difficult situations.
  • Look for opportunities to talk about problem-solving, perspective-taking, assertiveness, negotiation, and coping strategies.
  •  Promote “I statements”. Sometimes when children feel “stuck” or not heard, they have a hard time using I statements.  Instead, they focus on what others have done to them. Ask your child to share with you his or her concern but have your child begin with “I feel” or “I think”.
  • Use children’s literature to back up the idea of resiliency. There are many great books that have resilient characters or morals that promote a growth mindset or working hard.  Our library staff or the bookstore, Children’s Book World may be able to give you suggestions.
  •  Keep informed and aware of what your children are seeing in the movies, television and on the internet. Some of the shows, movies, and video clips can be very positive in promoting resiliency. Others have the opposite effect. Please be vigilant.
  •  Talk about how resilience/growth mindset has played a role in your life. Share with your children what you were like when you were their age.  What was hard?  When were you were resilient even when things didn’t work out as you planned? Children love to hear stories about their parents when they were kids.
  • Remember to listen. Growing up can be challenging sometimes. Having a trusted adult to be there to support you is vital.
  • Be patient.  Children develop unevenly sometimes. In addition, sometimes it seems like they are really internalizing our message only to “forget” the message a few days later. This can be a hallmark of childhood and can be frustrating for both children and parents.