5 kids walking with bikes and soccer ball
5 kids walking with bikes and soccer ball

12 protective actions that help your child build resilience

Resilience refers to the process by which an individual draws on internal and external resources to recover and adapt to adversity.

Need to know

Resilience refers to the process by which an individual draws on internal and external resources to recover and adapt to adversity. Some children, in spite of being exposed to stressful and traumatic experiences, have managed to overcome the pain without suffering from significant mental health conditions that render them incapable of living a productive life. 

Resilience has been found to be a dynamic process that can be changed throughout life. Childhood is the best time to implement interventions that strengthen resilience due to children’s brain plasticity.

Why it’s important

Research has found that children’s resilience can be explained as an interaction between their genetic makeup and the kind of support they receive.

The factors that protect or put a child at risk can be grouped in three categories

  1. Personal characteristics – physical health, cognitive abilities and general temperament are important contributors to whether a child is naturally resilient or whether they’ll need extra help in developing the skills to navigate adversity
  2. Family characteristics – supportive, warm, stable and consistent parenting is a necessary constant throughout a child’s life, teaching and protecting them from a multitude of risk factors. However, family dysfunction, abuse, neglect, addiction and violence can make that child at-risk of trauma
  3. External support –  having external support for the child and the family is critical for developing resilience. Its best when the whole family is supported rather than just the child

Researchers have identified 4 pillars of resilience that help kids develop emotional intelligence and resilience

  1. Self-efficacy – this the belief that you can achieve an outcome
  2. Self-trust – this is the ability to rely on yourself to achieve goals
  3. Self-esteem – this is a how you think and feel about yourself
  4. Kindness – this is the capacity to be aware of others and to care for them 

Tips & strategies 

The key to developing resilience in children is to provide them with age-appropriate opportunities, both plentiful and meaningful. Opportunities to take rest from a stressful environment, opportunities to explore in safety and security, opportunities to believe and to dream; all these need to be given to children, especially those who are at-risk.

12 Protective actions parents can take to combat risk factors:

1. Practise co-regulation – kids learn to self-regulate with a calm adult. Practising co-regulation when your child is dysregulated is teaching them an important skill for resilience, self-regulation.

2. Promote social connections – strong social relationships can provide the external support your child needs to deal with stress. Promote a variety of these friendships by enrolling them in their preferred sport and activities outside of school. Having several and independent friendship groups can protect your child from dependance on toxic friends

3. Praise effort not outcomes – part of instilling a growth mindset is to focus on the effort your child has put into a project or an activity rather than just the result. You want them to believe that goals are achieved through practice and hard work.

4. Encourage healthy risk taking – there are many opportunities to take risks in life. Choosing activities or making choices that pushes your child out of their comfort zone will stretch them. Encourage them to take surfing lessons, play the drums, climb the tree, enter a writing competition or to walk up to the shop on their own. Your child can easily recover from small disappointments and they’ll rejoice in their success.

5. Hold back from fixing, let them try first – parents often want to jump into their child’s problem and solve it straight away so that they can protect their child from possible pain. Doing this however, does not give your child a chance to practice problem solving and it takes away the opportunity for building self-trust. Coach them through problems with questions, but don’t try to fix it yourself.

6. Build their emotional vocabulary – labelling emotions is a great way to normalise feelings like fear and anger. Naming your child’s big feelings and talking through why they feel them is a good time to discuss options for managing them in a healthy way

7. Foster their independence – researchers have found that self-efficacy is a central theme to building resilience. As a parent you will need to relinquish some control because independence creates opportunities for your child to feel like they can do things on their own.

8. Embrace mistakes – Perfectionist tendencies and fear of failure creates avoidance, which can be triggers for anxiety. Embrace mistakes as a key part of learning and don’t dwell on them, instead work with your child to focus on what they can do next.

9. Exhibit resilience – showing your child that you deal with stress in a healthy way, using breathing or other calming strategies is a very powerful lesson. Labelling your own emotions helps them see that frustration, anger, disappointment or sadness are passing emotions that can be managed.

10. Model optimism – when you are faced with a situation that has not worked out how you hoped, make sure you talk to your child about the silver lining. Reframing a negative outcome can change how your child feels and what they do about it, so help them see things through optimism coloured glasses.

11. Adopt positive parenting – a supportive, warm and positive parent is a crucial protective factor for developing resilience. Staying connected and prioritising a trusting relationship with your child provides them with the comfort that they are safe in your unconditional love.

12. Teach problem solving skills – working through an issue and its solution is an important skill that builds confidence. Take advantage of sibling squabbling, friendship challenges, school issues, etc to bounce ideas and work through solutions with your child.

References

  1. Resilience in Children: A Review of Literature With Implications for Education
  2. Resilience in Children: Strategies to Strengthen Your Kids
  3. Resilient Kids: Strengthening Your Child from the Inside Out
  4. Risk and resilience in children, family and community. A Research Review
  5. Resilience
  6. Maximizing children’s resilience
  7. Resilience in Children: Developmental Perspectives

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