The world is changing quickly around us and the ability to adapt is more crucial than ever. Building resilience in children will ensure they are successful. Yet, I’m seeing and hearing of more and more examples where children are so dependent upon their parents and uncomfortable with change that it makes me wonder what we are doing.
I hear of parents of university students crashing in dorms because their child is stressed out and can’t handle dealing with school alone.
I hear examples of situations like a 12 year old boy who’s mom didn’t pick him up from school. He lived around the corner and had a house key but it never occur to him to walk home. Instead, he just hung around the school waiting for an hour.
Then I hear other stories of young children in foreign countries able to problem solve, take public transit at a young age, live on their own, and otherwise make decisions we don’t believe our North American children are capable of.
I love this video of a 7 year old girl in Japan taking the train to school (including transfers) by herself. Her mother is quoted in the video as saying “If she gets lost or catches the wrong train she has to figure it out on her own. She won’t be able to get home if she doesn’t!”.
I think the very idea would send many North American parents into sheer panic.
Resilience is defined as an individual’s ability to adapt to a stress and adversity. It’s what allows people to get knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Resilience equals the ability to bounce back.
This is a quality I’d love my children to have.
This is a quality I’d love to have more of.
So how do we make that happen?
5 Simple Approaches to Building Resilience in Children
Some people are born more resilient than others but it is possible to cultivate this characteristic and train yourself and your children to be more adaptable with faced with adversity.
1. Be Aware of Your Coping Strategies
How do you typically respond to stressful situations or the curve-balls life throws at you? Children often look to their parents to learn appropriate responses to life situations. If you aren’t coping well with something, your child will sense that something is off and mirror your behaviour.
Children will do this from a very young age. One need only look at a baby who cries in response to another child crying. Obviously this would not happen in the same manner for an adolescent or adult child. However, I have witnessed examples of 20 year old children who have somehow inherited their parent’s irrational fears.
If you don’t respond well to stressful situations that’s ok. Don’t beat yourself up over it. You have the power to consciously change that response. If you need some guidance regarding how then jump to this article for 2 simple steps to avoid worrying too much.
2. Give Your Child Alternatives
If your child is upset about something they are likely thinking of a negative outcome to a specific situation. Rather than worry with them and try to console them offer them another possible outcome to the situation. Help them to shift their thinking in order to improve their emotions bit by bit.
Re-framing the situation so you feel better is a skill that can be learned and therefore taught to a child.
For example, little Joey is worried about starting at a new school because he doesn’t know anyone and all of his friends attend his previous school. Our inclination might be to say something like “I know it’s scary but you’ll be fine”.
Instead, consider giving him other things to think about. He might make new friends that he likes just as much as his old friends. In fact, he had once befriended a new boy at school who became his best friend. That could happen to him. There may be other children that are new to the school too. The students in his class could be very friendly and welcome him with open arms. He could still see his old friends at hockey practice on weekends.
3. Switch up Your Normal Routine/Schedule
We are creatures of habit. When we have small children, we tend to adhere closely to nap times, meal times, and bed times. But sometimes (not always) it’s beneficial to switch it up a bit.
When you do this, explain to your child what’s going on. They’ll know what to expect. They’ll know that everything is ok despite the curve-ball.
This places them in a somewhat new situation with the belief and realization that everything can still be ok even if its different. Describe any foreseeable unpleasant aspects at the situation while showing enthusiasm toward the exciting reasons why you’re doing something out of the ordinary.
For example, you might delay nap time by an hour or two so they’ll be able to stay up a bit later to watch fireworks or attend a family dinner that’s at a later time than normal. They might be extra sleepy or grumpy for a bit but the fun experience will be worth it.
4. Believe that Failure is a Good Thing
If you listen to some of the most successful people tell their stories you will always hear how they failed over and over again before succeeding in a big way. They learned that trying and failing is better than not trying at all. From every attempt came a lesson learned that got them closer to ultimate success.
Applying this type of thinking can be tricky. We are often conditioned through childhood to believe that failure isn’t a good thing. In fact, it’s something to be embarrassed and ashamed of. I don’t believe we intentionally instill this type of thinking in our children but it’s a product of our school system, peer pressure, and fear of looking stupid. I used to be absolutely terrified of putting my hand up in class in case I got an answer wrong.
Be conscious of the feedback you’re giving your child when they fail at basic tasks. Also be conscious of the type of praise you are giving them when they succeed.
If they receive praise for the result only then they may be less likely to try something that pushes their limits believing that praise is tied to a successful outcome. If they receive praise for effort then they will feel confident that they can try something new and even if they fail they will still receive praise for doing their best.
5. Visit New Places
Travelling outside of your country and experiencing different cultures opens your eyes to new possibilities. It can be an exciting adventure but also outside of your comfort zone. Every country (or region) can offer unique experiences and diverse perspectives.
Travel can challenge your thinking and make you question why you do the things you do. My trip to Machu Picchu a few years ago lead me to meet a family who’s 9 year old son lived 2 hours away by himself in order to go to school. That one experience many years ago still lingers in my memory and forces me to wonder what children are actually capable of.
If you don’t have the luxury of travelling to far away lands consider something as simple as visiting Chinatown in a major city nearby, going out for ethic food you don’t normally eat, or volunteering at a soup kitchen.
Any experience that pushes you even a little out of your comfort zones will open your eyes to possibilities you had never considered. It is also a minor stressor which gives you the ability to practice adapting to a new situation in your quest toward building resilience.
Take your kids along for the adventure!