It can be a stressful world for children and teens. Helping them build resilience can reduce this stress and anxiety – and support good mental health.
Life can be stressful, even in good times. But resilience – our ability to bounce back from adversity – helps us cope and grow stronger. Young children and teens need it too, especially those who have less experience with adversity.
The good news is that our resilience level isn’t predetermined. It can grow. And you can help your children and teens increase theirs.
Why resilience matters
Nicole McCance is a clinical psychologist, relationship expert, and mother of twin boys aged three and a half. She understands the importance of resilience in children from both a clinical and parental perspective.
“Every child faces adversity – we can’t change that,” says McCance. “What we can help change is their response to tough times through increased resilience. This can make them less likely to become anxious or depressed and more likely to overcome their challenges.
What contributes to resilience in children? Psychologists recognize seven “C’s” as contributing factors:
Competence – the skills needed to handle a situation
Confidence – a belief in those skills and abilities
Connection – a solid sense of security through close ties to family and friends
Character – a solid set of moral values to determine right from wrong
Contribution – an understanding of their own personal contribution to the world
Coping – an ability to recognize and deal with stress when it arises
Control – an understanding that they can control the outcomes of their decisions
How to build resilience in your kids
With the seven C’s in mind, McCance says she focuses on a few strategies.
“The first is control. We want to protect our kids – we don’t want them hurt in any way. But protection can backfire sometimes. We need to let go and give our kids some control. Let them take some age-appropriate risks. It breeds competence, even if they initially fail and have to try again.”
McCance also believes that the coping factor is critical.
“One way to help a child cope with stress is to simply let them feel their feelings. We tend to want to make things better – to fix them. Instead, sit with them, listen, empathize, let them cry it out if necessary.”
McCance suggests simple exercises like deep breathing that can help calm them down. But the whole process can slowly build coping skills. It also strengthens their emotional bond with you – another factor that supports resilience.
Self-care for parents is also important – because parents are role models. Children absorb far more than most of us think. So, if you’re resilient, and handling adversity well, your children will see this. And it gives them a better chance of doing so too.
Professional help if resilience falters
A resilient child is typically happy, confident, independent, and able to reach out to others for help as needed.
But every child is at a different stage of resilience building. And some may need a professional to guide them along this path. A psychologist or other qualified professional can help. And many have adapted their services and offer virtual or telephone consultations.