Building Resilience in Children

In the past several years, we’ve heard a lot about the importance of building resilience in children. Resilience helps them withstand and overcome challenges, learn from them, develop and succeed.

Building resilience in children can help protect children from mental health conditions. These can include depression and anxiety. Also, resiliency can offset factors that increase the risk of mental health conditions, such as being bullied or previous trauma.

Why is it Important to Build Resiliency?

Resiliency is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity. This may include trauma, tragedy, threats, or any other significant stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.

Here’s why building resilience in children is important:

  • Resiliency helps us navigate simple life stressors and major life events.
  • Resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that anyone can learn and develop.
  • The ability to learn resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary. Resiliency is just like any other skill that takes time and practice to learn.
  • At some point in everyone’s life they will experience stress, frustration, trauma and loss. Resiliency will not prevent stress, but rather provides tools to deal with it.
  • The goal is to create a heart and mindset of “what can I learn from this failure/hurdle/setback.” Building resilience in children gives them tools to go from victim to survivor.

How to Build Resilience in Children

Teaching children how to conceptualize information is important because it helps them identify important topics, create a stepwise plan and execute.

One way to start is to think about the steps we need to accomplish before starting an activity. This is a frontal lobe operation that we really want our children to practice. For example, when driving home from a baseball practice or other activity, review what is expected of them when arriving home. What do they need to complete and what are the steps of completing that? Helping kids verbalize will help them conceptualize. The more times they do this, the more comfortable they will become with the process. We do this daily.

Also, we also need to be prepared to let children make mistakes. For example, when children are young and want to climb a tree, it is ok to allow them to climb a low section. If they fall, they will learn their limitations without getting severely injured. The key is to learn from mistakes and be able to generalize information and apply it to other situations.

Early on children are exploring the world for the first time. As a result, it’s important to encourage safe exploration. You can offer them choices. Doing this helps children have a sense of control over what happens to them. Children who believe that things are out of their control may end up with a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.

One way to do this is forced decision-making with an either-or question, such as, “Do you want to talk where everyone can hear us or in private?”

Communication is Key to Build Resilience in Children

Parents and caregivers first need to practice communicating with their children. How can we have deep conversation if we do not practice simple communication?

  • It’s so important to make sure that we are taking time out of our day to communicate with our kids. Communication is important to help them process information and understand why they did things or why they reacted the way that they did.
  • Conversations need to be positive so that a child can learn and consider other ways to react or behave that they didn’t think of.
  • In my office, we often talk about events that were handled poorly. I preface it by telling them the goal is not to beat up on them or rehash negative information. Rather, the goal is to learn what we could’ve done differently to find ourselves in a different/better situation.
  • It’s important for children to understand that communication is more than the words they say. The way they say it is just as important. Help them to understand both verbal and nonverbal communication.
  • Also, adults also need to get used to having uncomfortable conversations. Children are going to have these conversations with us or with a peer at school. It is important that they get the right information, and we can help them process it.

Kids’ Minds Matter Can Help

Kids’ Minds Matter, an initiative of Lee Health and Golisano Children’s Hospital, is focused on raising awareness and funds to ensure children receive the right care at the right place and time, making the full continuum of mental and behavioral health services available in the region. These vital funds fuel programs to expand access to pediatric mental health support in Lee, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Charlotte Counties.

Dr. Jason SaboAbout the Author

Dr. Jason Sabo is site supervisor at Lee Health’s Pediatric Behavioral Health Practice.