Raising Resilient Children

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • As parents, we want our children to be happy and safe. It hurts us to see our child suffer, be in pain or feel emotional hurts.We often work hard to make sure they don’t have to face hardship and step in to solve problems as they arise. But learning to deal with setbacks and disappointments helps build resilience. Resilience is definedas “the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune and change.” Those with high resiliency tend to have less anxiety.


    Some children are naturally more resilient than others. These children are more outgoing, don’t become as frustrated or upset when things go wrong, have an even temperament and adapt to changes more easily. These children have “inherited” resilience. But that doesn’t mean that resilience can’t be learned - it can. You, and other adults in your child’s life, can help build resilience and teach your children not only to deal with difficulties but to see obstacles as ways to grow and learn.

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    It is generally accepted that who we become is a combination of genetics and environment. In other words, we are influenced by both “nature and nurture.” One study [1] found that when children were “naturally shy,” the reaction of the parents could shape how these children interacted with others as adolescents. In homes where the parents provided praise and warmth, the children had less anxiety, stress and loneliness. If the parents reacted with criticism or became intrusively controlling, the shyness became more severe. This study gives hope that parents, and other adults, such as caregivers or teachers, can modify how inherent traits are expressed.


    It is natural to want to shield your child from disappointment and hurt. But, by doing so, your child misses the opportunity to learn how to deal with different situations. Think about your child’s reactions. When confronted with a tough situation, a hard test or a major disappointment, how does he or she react? Does he want to quit trying? Does she give up? Does he suddenly want to start something new or change direction, hoping it will be easier? If a relationship, with a friend or boyfriend/girlfriend is in trouble, does your teen simply end it or look for ways to solve the problem? Children who are resilient stick with it; they are problem-solvers. And when the inevitable disappointment occurs, they bounce back, stronger and more self-assured than before.


    Michael McQueen, in the article “Raising Resilient Kids,” believes the generation of children born in the 1980’s, the Decade of the Child, lack resiliency because of societal pressures put on parents. According to McQueen, during this time, parents were told to give their children only praise and positive reinforcement, regardless of their effort or performance. Parents were told to hold criticism and focus on the positive. Imagine a child who fails an important test. Parents can praise the child for “trying their best” and reassure him or her that next time will be better. Or, parents can let their child know they are disappointed with that grade and discuss what can be done differently next time to make sure another failure doesn’t occur. In the 1980’s, parents were encouraged to do the first, praise the effort. But this approach, according to McQueen, gave us “A largely pampered generation who were, in many cases, sheltered from experiences of hardship, criticism, failure and disappointment,” and therefore didn’t learn the skills needed to cope with these situations.


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    Some children are resilient despite or because of their upbringing. Parents who nurture but, at the same time, teach their children that disappointment and setbacks are a part of life help their children develop inner strength. They teach their children that an undesired or negative outcome isn’t the end of the world but instead it is a chance to grow and learn; it is an opportunity to discover how to do it better next time. Children who develop resilience are more apt to grow up self-assured and independent.




    "Resilience." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/resilience>.

    [1] Van Zalk, Nejra, and Margaret Kerr. “Shy Adolescents’ Perceptions of Parents’ Psychological Control and Emotional Warmth: Examining Bidirectional Links.” Merill-Palmer Quarterly 57.4 (2011): 375-401

Published On: November 11, 2014