10 WAYS TO MAKE YOUR CHILDREN MORE RESILIENT
Robert Brooks, Ph.D. and Sam Goldstein, Ph.D.
do most parents want for their children? High on their list are: happiness,
success in school, satisfaction with their lives, and solid friendships.
In order to reach these goals, our children need inner strength to
deal competently with the many challenges and demands they encounter.
We call this capacity to cope and feel competent resilience.
the word resilience has typically been applied to youngsters who have overcome stress
and hardship, we believe that it should be understood as a vital set
of qualities for every child. Even children fortunate enough not to
face significant adversity or trauma experience the pressures around
them and the expectations placed on them.
MINDSET OF A RESILIENT CHILD
children are hopeful and possess high self worth. They feel special
and appreciated. They have learned to set realistic goals and expectations.
They have developed the ability to solve problems and make decisions
and thus are more likely to view mistakes, hardships and obstacles
as challenges to confront rather than as stressors to avoid.
children are aware of their weaknesses and vulnerabilities but they
also recognize their strong point and talents. They have developed
effective interpersonal skills with peers and adults and are able
to seek out assistance and nurturance in appropriate ways. They focus
on the aspects of their lives over which they have control rather
than those over which they have little or no influence.
no one proved golden path to the future. Each child travels through
life on a unique road that is shaped by a variety of factors, including
his or her inborn temperament, educational experiences, family style,
and values as well as the broader society or culture.
there are some guideposts that provide principles and actions applicable
to any road a child travels. Some of them may seem like simple common
sense. But even those that appear obvious require continuous thought
and reflection so we donÁt lose sight of what is truly important in
our parenting behaviors. The following is a brief overview of 10 strategies
to help parents foster resilience in their youngsters.
- Being empathetic. In the parenting relationship,
empathy is the capacity of parents to put themselves inside the
shoes of their youngsters and to see the world through their eyes.
Empathy does not imply that you agree with everything your children
do, but rather that you attempt to appreciate and validate their
point of view. It is easier to be empathetic when our kids do what
we ask them to do, are successful in their activities and are warm
and responsive. ItÁs more difficult when weÁre upset, angry or disappointed
in them, but thatÁs when it matters most.
- Communicating effectively and listening actively.
is not simply how we speak to others. It involves actively listening
to our children, understanding and validating what they are attempting
to say and responding in ways that avoid power struggles by not
interrupting them, by not telling them how they should be feeling,
by not putting them down and by not using absolutes such as ËalwaysÓ
and ËneverÓ in a demeaning way: ËYou never help out. You always
- Changing Ënegative scripts.Ó Every parent can offer
firsthand examples of when they repeatedly told or nagged a child
to do or not do something with little if any positive response on
the childÁs part. If something we have said or done for a reasonable
amount of time does not work, then we must change our ËscriptÓ if
our children are to change theirs. This does not imply Ëgiving in
toÓ or ËspoilingÓ children; rather it serves to teach youngsters
that there are alternative ways of solving problems.
- Loving our children in ways that help them
feel special and appreciated. A basic guidepost for building resilience is
the presence of at least one adult (hopefully several) who believe
in the worth of the child. Such adults need not necessarily be parents.
They are individuals who in their interactions with a child convey
love and acceptance and help that child feel special; someone with
whom a child can identify, and from whom they can draw strength.
- Accepting our children for who they are and
helping them set realistic expectations and goals. To do this, parents
have to understand and accept their childÁs unique temperament.
Acceptance does not mean letting children do whatever they want
or not setting limits on their behavior. However, when children
feel accepted, it is easier for them to respond to requests and
limits because they experience these in an atmosphere of love and
- Helping our children experience success by
identifying and reinforcing their Ëislands of competence.Ó True self-worth, hope
and resilience are based on childrenÁs experiencing success in areas
of their lives that they and others deem to be important. Each child
has different interests and talents that take time to develop. We
need to promote our childrenÁs strengths rather than overemphasizing
- Helping children recognize that mistakes
are experiences from which to learn. Resilient children tend to view mistakes as
opportunities for learning while those who are not hopeful often
experience mistakes as an indication that they are failures. Parents
need to set and evaluate realistic expectations; emphasize that
mistakes are not only accepted, but also expected; communicate that
their children are accepted and loved even when they make mistakes;
and serve as models for dealing with mistakes and setbacks.
- Developing responsibility, compassion and
a social conscience by providing children with opportunities to
We often try to reinforce responsibility simply by giving children
chores to do at home. However, almost every child from a very young
age appears motivated to help others. Children need opportunities
to make a positive difference in their world. Involving them in
a charitable work, such as walks for hunger or food drives, fosters
self-esteem and a social conscience.
- Teaching out children to solve problems and
make decisions. Resilient children define problems, consider different solutions,
attempt what they judge to be the most appropriate solutions, and
learn from the outcome. To reinforce this problem-solving attitude,
parents must be careful not to always tell children what to do but
rather try to engage them in thinking about possible solutions.
When children develop their own plans of action with the guidance
of parents, their sense of ownership and control is reinforced.
- Discipline in a way that promotes self-discipline
and self-worth. This means being consistent, but not rigid;
knowing your childrenÁs capabilities and not pushing them for unrealistic
expectations, relying when possible on natural, logical consequences
rather than arbitrary, punitive measures; and remembering that positive
feedback and encouragement are often the most powerful form of discipline.
for Work & Family Life
newsletter, edited by Susan Ginsberg)