Help kids develop resiliency across the ages and stages of their lives

Developing resiliency can help kids navigate challenges such as bullying.

One of the most important things parents and caregivers can do is help children develop resilience. Resiliency is the inborn capacity that humans have for “self-righting” and bouncing back in the face of difficult situations and adversity. Research shows that while we are born with this internal strength, it can be helped or hindered through the environments we’re in. Many children must navigate change, emotional pain and trauma ranging from moving to a new town, being teased or bullied or losing a loved one. The ability to thrive despite challenges leads to resiliency. You can help children and youth develop traits commonly found in resilient survivors – including emotional intelligence and social competence.

The American Psychological Association (APA) provides a Resilience Guide that provides tips for helping children and teens develop thoughts, behaviors and actions that support the development of resiliency. Examples include:

  • Make connections: Help children learn the skill of empathy and ways to make and maintain healthy friendships.
  • Help children by having them help others: Kids who feel helpless and hopeless can be empowered by learning to help others. Engage children and teens in age-appropriate volunteer work or ask them to assist you with tasks that they can master.
  • Maintain a daily routine: Structure and routine can feel comforting to children. As much as possible, stick to daily schedules and encourage children to develop their own routines.
  • Take a break: While routines are helpful, it’s also extremely important to learn to relax our minds and bodies. Help children learn mindfulness and other healthy ways to navigate stress, worries and anxiety. Provide opportunities for creative, unstructured play – inside and out of doors – for both you and your child. Model balance in your own life by taking time for exercise, play and rest.
  • Move toward your goals: Teach children and teens to set age-appropriate, reasonable goals and to move toward them one step at a time. Focusing on what has been accomplished rather than on what has not, helps to build resiliency in the face of challenges.
  • Nurture a positive view and keep things in perspective: Help young people learn to trust themselves by noticing past challenges that they have come through. Remind them that there is a future beyond a hard moment that they are experiencing and that it is not their “forever.”

The APA Resilience Guide shares additional information for parents and caregivers including specific ways to help build resiliency across major childhood developmental stages. The suggestions provided are only a guide – and parents and caregivers are reminded to use their own knowledge of their children to guide them on their journey.

While we can’t stop our children from experiencing stress, loss, disappointments, pain or trauma, we can seek support, learn from our mistakes and do the best that we can to help kids bounce back from life’s challenges. Parenting is hard work and requires dozens of day-to-day choices and decisions from birth through adolescence – and even into the role of being a parent with adult children. Rather than blaming and shaming parents who are struggling with challenges, we can be supportive by helping them learn parenting skills that focus on raising children who move through the world with courage and resiliency.

Michigan State University Extension provides opportunities for parents, youth workers and other adults to learn more about issues related to resiliency, social and emotional health, healthy relationships and bullying and ways to create safe, affirming and fair environments with and on behalf of young people. For more information, check out a new initiative called Be SAFE: Safe, Affirming and Fair Environments.

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