All people face challenges in their lives. Changes in one’s job, one’s relationships, or one’s residence are all areas where one must exercise grit and resilience to persevere and to keep going. Every day, everyone experiences tough times, whether small or large, in some way. Children do as well, even if their challenges sometimes look different from those of adults. Like adults, children will always have difficulties of varying degrees to face. However, parents and teachers can give them the skills they need to cope and even thrive in any situation. We can build their resilience.
Resilience is the ability to rebound from challenges that occur throughout our lives. According to pediatrician Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D.,
“Resilience is the capacity to rise above difficult circumstances, allowing our children to exist in this less-than-perfect world, while moving forward with optimism and confidence.”
It’s the ability to bounce back from stress, challenge, trauma, and adversity, and to thrive afterwards. It is a coping mechanism that can be nurtured in all children.
Resilience makes an enormous difference in people’s lives. People who respond to challenges and difficulties with resilience tend to live longer and to be healthier, happier, and more successful in school and at work. Although everyone has different levels of it, the good news is that resilience is like a muscle. It can be built and strengthened.
Children have different levels of resilience and different ways of responding to and recovering from stressful times. Low resilience can drive certain patterns of negative behaviors and the inability to cope. These can include becoming emotional, withdrawing, or becoming angry or resentful. Since resilience is something that we build throughout our lives — and since a young child’s brain is more adaptable early in life — early childhood is the optimal time to begin providing our kids with the tools they need to respond positively to challenges and difficult times in their lives.
The word childhood conjures up images of carefree days spent blowing bubbles, looking at picture books, and happily running around a playground. While most of childhood should be precisely this idyllic, it is inevitable that there will also be many events that can challenge a child by presenting difficulties. These can range from losing a game or misplacing a toy to having an argument with a friend, moving to a new city, or coping with divorce. Without the right coping strategies to build the child’s resilience, these events can have traumatic effects.
We want the best for our children. Therefore, even though we can’t prevent them from encountering difficulties, we can provide them with the tools they need to emerge unscathed, and in some cases, even better than before. Fortunately, many of the things that support healthy development in young children also help build their resilience. These include:
Children do best when they feel loved, understood, wanted, and accepted. Through these relationships, children learn that their needs will be met, which gives them the confidence to explore their world and their feelings.
When parents share how they cope and then move on when they encounter their own disappointments, children will learn and follow their examples. This will help the young people to see not only that sadness and disappointment are very normal human experiences, but also that there are ways to manage them and thereby minimize their negative impact.
Parents should demonstrate how to breathe deeply to help calm down. This helps children understand that that there are healthy ways to deal with powerful feelings, as does talking with children about what works best for them. For example, drawing, running, listening to music, and writing in a journal are all positive strategies that can help children work through challenging situations.
You can help your children identify and express their feelings (happy, sad, angry, scared, etc.) while pointing out that other people have these feelings too. Children will see that they are not alone — that they are not facing insurmountable challenges.
Positive daily interactions with caregivers and family members teach children how to establish caring relationships with other important people in their lives. This makes it easier for children to reach out to others when they need help and guidance in tough situations. Children will feel comforted to know that they’re not alone with their difficult feelings. Their resilience will allow them not only to cope with tough situations, but also to thrive thereafter.
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