Have you noticed that some children seem to flourish even in the face of adversity – difficult family situations, loss of important people in their lives, physical handicaps, learning disabilities? Yet other children see the smallest obstacle as an insurmountable stumbling block? What is it that makes the difference between these two opposite reactions?
Components of Resiliency
Being able to triumph in the face of life’s challenges is called resiliency. Resilient children:
- believe that they have control over themselves and their lives, can influence what happens to them, and can solve the problems they confront. If nine-year-old William does not do well on a spelling test, he believes that he can pull up his grades by studying harder before the next test.
- are optimistic and see life as a challenge and change as an opportunity. When twelve-year-old John is told that his family has to move to a new city, he accepts the news, believing that he will make new friends and enjoy his new neighborhood.
- are socially adept, get help from adults and peers when they need it, and establish close bonds with caregivers and others. Six-year-old Zach, whose parents are going through a divorce, finds comfort in his relationships with a caring aunt and his teacher.
- have a belief that their lives have meaning and that there is a purpose to their struggles. They are committed to the goals they set and to the effort necessary to reach them. Sixteen-year-old Carly persists in a difficult project for her social studies class because she understands the importance to her future of doing well in school now.
What Can Parents Do?
- Be empathic. Listen to your children so they know you understand their feelings and perspectives. They will learn that they can turn to you when they are troubled and will see you as a source of comfort. Empathy helps children develop compassion and healthy relationships with other people.
- Love your children in ways that help them to feel special and appreciated. Offer unconditional love; let them know that you cherish and accept them even when they make mistakes. “You didn’t do well on that test. I am glad I am here for you to talk to. Your thoughts and opinions are important to me.”
- Enable your children to be successful by identifying and reinforcing their strengths. Encourage activities that they do well and enjoy doing, that bring them praise and respect from others, and that lessen stress.
- Celebrate your children’s accomplishments. “Yay, you did a back flip!”
- Emphasize your children’s role in creating their own success. “You kept practicing until you had the right form.”
- Recognize that strengths take time to develop. “You persisted in learning to do the flip. In time, you can master the whole routine.”
- Teach your children life skills, those everyday tasks that they will need to take care of themselves. These enhance their independence and give them confidence in their ability to manage their world.
- Help your children to find opportunities in the challenges they face. Teach them to address problems with a positive, “can-do” attitude. While you may want to empathize at first, “That is quite a dilemma,” you can help your children move into action, “What ideas do you have for handling the situation? What help will you need? How else can you look at the situation?”
- Communicate to your children that mistakes are for learning. They will feel more confident and optimistic, and therefore, be more willing to take risks, which is more likely to lead to success. “That didn’t turn out how you expected. What can you do differently next time?”
- Discipline in ways that create a safe and secure environment and strengthen self-esteem and self-control. Be firm, consistent, and respectful. Your children’s sense of responsibility for their own behavior and their own decisions will be enhanced.
- When your child misbehaves or does something wrong, ask yourself, “What does my child need to learn?” and help your child to learn those lessons, skills, and tasks. Avoid blaming, shaming, or other hurtful responses. For example, a thirteen-year-old who frequently forgets his assignments at home may need to learn better organizational skills.
- Give your children opportunities to solve problems and make decisions. This will help them to believe in themselves as capable and in control of their own lives. “We have a problem. What ideas do you have for solving it?”
- Help your children to become skilled coping with change. Since change is inevitable and can be a source of stress, your children can benefit from feeling that they can handle transitions. Give them opportunities to deal with change by introducing small changes in calm times. Teach them to remind themselves, “I can handle this. It may be difficult, but I can handle it.”
- Help your children to set and stick with goals. Encourage them to think about different ways to reach each goal and to persist even in the face of some frustration. “You are having trouble with that song and don’t want to play the flute any longer. Your teacher is counting on you. You need to stay with it until after the concert. I believe if you work at it, you can do it.”
- Promote a strong work ethic. The attitude “I will do my best” will develop the habit of working hard in your children and a belief that their efforts will help them to succeed. Beyond judging achievement by a grade or a run scored, have your children answer, “Did I try my hardest?” “Did I put in the work and the effort?”
- Encourage your children to get involved in causes beyond themselves. They will realize that they can make a difference in the world in things that matter to them. Pick activities you can do together when they are younger. As they mature, help them to seek out opportunities, such as volunteering in a soup kitchen, raising money for a collection or a charity, or creating a new program to address an injustice they see.
Be a Role Model
Since you are your child’s most important role model, it is helpful to be aware of how you handle stress, problems, and change. You can teach your children good coping skills by living those skills yourself, and you can convey an optimistic outlook on life if you approach problems with hope and determination.
Through connection, teaching competency, providing opportunities for self-control, and continued commitment, you can raise children who are successful personally, socially, behaviorally, and academically – in a word: RESILIENT!
By Audrey Krisbergh, Certified Parenting Educator
For more information about self-esteem, check out the following books. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.
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