It is often assumed that children are quick to bounce back from difficult situations by default. People tend to think kids have less stress and worries than adults. However, this is not the case. It’s important to implement actionable strategies to help your children grow into more resilient human beings. Emotional resilience is something that requires development. When children are resilient, it reduces anxiety and allows them to cope in healthy ways with life’s ups and downs. Additionally, this is a skill that is necessary in adulthood. In this article, we’ll provide ideas to nurture building emotional resilience in kids.

What is Emotional Resilience

building emotional resilience in kids coping skills

Emotional resilience is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as the ability to adapt to adverse, traumatic, or tragic events. It is a life skill to cope well with stress, anxiety, and emotional pain. For kids, this can come in a variety of situations from minor to more challenging cases. 

Minor events that may trigger stress in children can include falling out with friends, taking tests, or managing difficult emotions. Major events that create stress can include moving houses, divorce, bullying, or dealing with the impact of COVID-19. 

Building emotional resilience in kids is important because you cannot always be around to solve problems for them. Children must learn to cope with minor problems to help them when coping with major ones in the future. Teaching emotional resilience to kids helps them to lead a healthy, fulfilling life.  

The Fulcrum of Resilience

There have been various depictions of emotional resilience in the academic community. Harvard furnishes the image of a seesaw with positive and negative outcomes, all balanced on a fulcrum. Even if a child has more negative outcomes than positive ones, as long as they have coping skills and some positive outcomes, this can shift their fulcrum. According to Harvard, “Protective experiences and coping skills on one side counterbalance significant adversity on the other. Resilience is evident when a child’s health and development tips toward positive outcomes — even when a heavy load of factors is stacked on the negative outcome side.”

We cannot always protect children from stressful events. However, we can teach children emotional resilience to make it easier for them to overcome problems when they occur.

How to Build Emotional Resilience

happy family

There are many different methods and strategies to help build emotional resilience in kids. The most common factor in children who are emotionally resilient is at least one stable, loving, and supportive relationship with a parent, caregiver, or other adult. These relationships have the benefit of buffering developmental disruption (Harvard). 

The list below offers some examples and scenarios to help you identify when opportunities arise to nurture emotional resilience:

  1. Discuss the child’s feelings with them. When children face complex emotions, they might struggle to communicate their feelings. Use these situations as a chance for them to learn about resilience. For example, cancelled plans can lead to a child feeling disappointed and confused. Use this as leverage to explain that disappointment is a natural feeling and that they can expect to feel the same again in the future. Share times when you felt disappointed or let down to demonstrate that you can get over these kinds of feelings. Modeling emotional resilience and how to express feelings in a healthy way teaches your child how to do the same. 
  2. Try not to rush a child’s feelings. This can create false expectations. It is important to teach children that getting over negative feelings can take time. Help them understand that patience is vital to recovery. The pandemic has made it difficult to provide certainty to all our lives and children are no exception. Help them to take things one day at a time so they can manage unknowns at a reasonable pace. 
  3. Create milestones and goals. Breaking down resilience into small steps will help a child to have something to look forward to. It also helps them understand that resilience is a process.
  4. Help the child learn to accept change. Many situations in life are hard to control, no matter who you are or how resilient you have become. Encouraging children to accept change will enable them to build a more resilient attitude. Moving from elementary school to middle school is a common example of this. Focusing on the new and exciting journey they are embarking on will help them recognise a positive outlook rather than draw attention to what they have lost. 
  5. Step back. We want to protect our kids from bad experiences. However, too much intervention may be detrimental to building resilience. Children must learn self efficacy to become more resilient individuals. This means supporting them where they need help, but making sure they have opportunities to find solutions by themselves. For example, if a kid falls out with their best friend, then point them in the direction of apologising or playing with others rather than picking up the phone yourself to call the best friend’s parents or getting teachers involved. 

Parental Strategies for Building Emotional Resilience in Kids

  1. Spend one on one time with your child. Try spending 15 minutes reading to them every day, and playing their favorite board games. Other ways to build connection include floor play for younger children, cooking together, and creating art. For older children, card or board games, finding a family hobby, and playing music together are great options. Children who feel like they have an adult they can rely on tend to experience greater emotional resilience.
  2. Model emotional resilience. For example, if you are faced with a difficult life situation, show your child how to cope. Use tools like therapy, talking about feelings, and developing a self care routine. When kids see healthy ways of coping, they learn how to develop their own resiliency. 
  3. Help kids keep a hopeful outlook despite tough times. Some strategies for this include maintaining as much normalcy as possible and fostering conversations to express their feelings. Some other tools include encouraging your child to talk about positive events and starting a family gratitude journal.
  4. Make monthly or yearly goals to help build confidence and resilience. Have your child write down goals. The goals should be measurable and reasonable for maximum success. By writing goals as a family and individually, and then following up for accountability, the whole family will become more connected.
  5. Keep the environment as similar as possible. Give as much warning before a change as possible. This will help your child to cope. Similarly, take time to talk to your child about the changes that are occurring and listen to their feelings.
  6. Sometimes, it is necessary to step back to let children learn coping skills. This strategy requires self restraint as a parent or guardian. However, it is necessary for developing their coping skills. 

Resilience is like a muscle and must be exercised. The more children are able to exercise their coping skills to everyday life, the more resilient they will be.

Soul Shoppe provides social emotional learning programs for students, parents, teachers and schools. 

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Sources:

APA, Harvard.edu, Open Access Government, Psycom, Understood, Washington Post