Caregivers often view childhood as a time for children to explore, discover their unique interests and talents, and learn the emotional literacy they need to work through the challenges and stress of adolescence and adulthood.
Resilience is a very important skill that kids can build in early development, especially when they are challenged with a difficult situation. This allows children to face a multitude of challenges, from coping with separations from caregivers before school to adapting to a whole new living environment.
Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies and healthy parenting practices you can use to help kids bounce back from the growing pains of those early stages of child development. In this guide, we’ll discuss how to raise resilient children so they feel more confident as they navigate the ever-evolving world of childhood and beyond.
The Importance of Resilience for Children and Teens
Resilience refers to the ability to adapt to a variety of stressors in our lives, rather than experience undue stress or discomfort because of them. For children, this can encompass smaller challenges like learning to be respectful when it comes to sharing toys or perhaps for slightly older children, involve more serious difficulties such as:
- Struggling with a parental separation
- Moving to a new city
- Handling an unexpected illnessough resilience activities is import
- Coping with learning challenges
- Mourning the loss of a family member or pet
- Adapting to a new sibling
Building resilience in children from a young age through resilience activities is important because it’s a trait that can help them overcome more high-stakes stressors and trauma later in their lives. As they learn to face and move through challenges, they can become stronger individuals. Not only that, but resilience also benefits them by:1
- Building confidence
- Making them feel more capable of handling problems in the future
- Understanding that the negative feelings associated with challenges won’t last forever
- Teaching them problem-solving skills
- Handling challenges in healthy, productive ways
How to Teach and Improve Resilience in Children
Some children may be more naturally resilient than others. With that said, when it comes to raising confident kids, resilience is a trait that can be learned as part of your child’s healthy development. As a parent or guardian, you have the power to hop in the driver’s seat and teach them.
Below, we’ll touch on eight strategies you can use to teach children the art of resilience.
#1 Acknowledge How They Feel
When a young child faces a challenge, like being bullied at school or learning a friend is moving away, it’s important not to brush off how the situation is making them feel. Instead of telling them their feelings “aren’t a big deal,” try supporting and empathizing with your child’s emotions.2
Allow them to feel sad, confused, or angry. Then, ask them if they can put words to the specific emotions they’re feeling. Once a child can begin to name their feelings, they can gradually become more aware of their own emotions—a first step towards learning methods that allow them to process feelings constructively.
#2 Help Them Identify Their Inner Strengths
Amid a difficult time, your child may only be able to focus on the obstacles that led to a negative outcome. For example, if you’ve moved to a new city and your child is finding it hard to make friends, they may concentrate on the factors they think are contributing to this difficulty.
Instead, try building their confidence by helping them take steps to identify their own positive traits and how they’ve been beneficial when making friends in the past. For example, you can help your child recognize inner strengths like their care and help for others, which may have been some of the traits their friends in their old hometown appreciated.
Keep in mind that it’s helpful to identify and acknowledge their strengths during a setback, but it’s equally important to try to have these conversations while they’re thriving. This can help them further reinforce a positive and resilient mindset.
#3 Offer Your Support in Small Doses
As a parent, it might be ingrained in your DNA to do everything in your power to fix all of the challenges that come into play when raising kids.
While it may be difficult to step out of the driver’s seat and let them grasp the steering wheel for a moment, allowing them to take the lead and seek their own solutions can strengthen their resilience in the long run.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t guide them toward an appropriate solution to a problem—to the contrary. Instead, you can try practicing problem solving activities for kids. Or, when they ask for your advice, you can give them helpful suggestions while allowing them to make decisions they can take ownership of.
From time to time, it's important to step back as a caregiver and let children lead their own path toward finding a solution. You can help guide this process by joining them in reflecting on their emotions and decisions. For example, you direct the conversation by saying something like, “You sound really frustrated about this problem. I wonder what ways we can try to solve it.” Or, you can ask your child if they have any ideas that may help address the challenge. These tactics can help ease your child into determining a solution that works for them Remember, avoiding challenges isn’t what builds resilience—working through them does.2
#4 Make S.M.A.R.T Goals
Achieving a goal usually requires perseverance, whether you’re a child, a teen, or an adult. Showing your child the importance of setting goals (as well as taking small but deliberate steps to achieve them) is also a meaningful way to build resilience.
A S.M.A.R.T. goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely.
For example, let’s say your third grader wants to read 500 pages of books over the summer. Here’s how they can use S.M.A.R.T. to achieve that goal:3
- Specific – If your child’s goal is to increase the amount of reading they do over the summer, help them decide on a specific number of pages they want to read each week or month.
- Measurable – For the goal to be measurable, they need to find a way to measure their progress, like breaking their reading into smaller daily chunks. If they read 50 pages a week, they could break that down into 10 pages five days a week.
- Achievable – Together, you can decide if their goal is achievable. Reading 50 pages in a week sounds feasible. Reading 300 pages in a week? Not so much (unless they’re avid book lovers—then go for it!).
- Relevant – Ensure their smaller goals align with their larger overarching goals. So, if their teacher wants them to read 15 books next year, their 500-page reading goal would help them reach their larger long-term goal.
- Timely – Lastly, help them determine a deadline for them to complete the goal. Since they’re completing it over the summer, you can coordinate an exact date for them to reach their goal of 500 pages.
When setting goals with and for your child, consider celebrating the small successes along the way to focus on their efforts rather than the outcome. Say your child practices reading for 30 minutes a day, but doesn't finish reading the book by the time they had hoped to––in this moment, help your child acknowledge their own hard work and practice. If their goals are not met, you can help them reframe their goal-setting process and reflect on what went well and what could have gone better to help them set goals for the future. This approach will help show your child that they didn't fail, but that there may be ways to improve their goal-setting method going forward.
When working with your child to create and follow through with their goals, consider their age. For younger kids, small and short goals are ideal for keeping them focused and motivated. As they become older, they can create longer-term goals that can be broken down into several, smaller ones.
#5 Reflect On the Lessons They’ve Learned (Judgment-free)
After a goal’s deadline has passed, consider taking some time to sit with your child and asking them how they feel about their achievements or frustrations. Reflecting on negative or positive outcomes is especially important for building resilience in kids, as they are more likely to give themselves feedback (and, in some cases, think about yours).
You can lead a casual, comfortable, and open-minded conversation with questions like:
- What went well?
- Looking back, what would you have changed?
- What was the most challenging part of reaching your goal and how did you overcome that challenge?
Reflecting on their successes and occasional failures allows them to learn from them. Next time they set a goal, they may find themselves with more confidence and determination to handle any unexpected hurdles that come their way. Additionally, it’s important to reassure your kids of your love for them so they feel supported through times of reflection.
#6 Tell Them It’s OK to Ask for Help
Regardless of one’s age, many people find it difficult to ask for help because they see it as a weakness. Instead, consider the benefits of teaching your children to advocate for their own needs by asking for help when they need it.
Asking for support offers an abundance of advantages, including:
- Forming connections – From inviting a classmate to lunch to asking a teacher for help with a confusing math problem, requesting help gives kids the opportunity to form relationships with others that they might otherwise not have had.4
- Finding new strengths – Oftentimes, asking for assistance is a way of easing kids out of their comfort zone, where they can discover new strengths or interests and build character in the process. It also enables children to build up the courage to ask for what they need, whether their request is big or small.
- Learning the power of vulnerability – It can be hard to feel exposed, but kids that allow themselves to be vulnerable are often able to learn that it’s OK not to be perfect. Rather, being their authentic self can help them in all facets of life, whether they’re at school, on a playdate, or with family.
#7 Teach By Example
As adults, we also face challenges that test our resilience. Another excellent way to teach your children how to be resilient is to lead by example, which might look like:
- Sharing some of your day-to-day hurdles with your children
- Discussing a problem you’re facing and how you’re going to approach it
- Be open with them about how the challenge made you feel
- Ask them how they would have handled the situation
Also, if you haven’t solved the issue yet, ask for their help. But keep in mind to ask for their support on things that are realistic for their age and safety. For example, you can ask them to help clean up their toys in their play space. This shows them you value their insights and may make it easier for them to come to you with their future challenges.
Help Your Child Build Resilience with Slumberkins
It’s never too soon (or too late) to start teaching your children healthy ways of overcoming the challenges that come with navigating the world. And Slumberkins is here to help you every step of the way.
Whether you help foster emotional skills through shared storytime or by following along with adorable fuzzy snugglers like Alpaca or Lynx as your kids learn to ask for help, there are countless ways to teach children resilience in a way that’s comfortable for them.
- "Resilience: how to build it in children 3-8 years." Raising Children.Updated 20 April, 2021. https://raisingchildren.net.au/school-age/behaviour/understanding-behaviour/resilience-how-to-build-it-in-children-3-8-years
- Belsky, Gail. "How to Build Resilience in Kids." Understood. https://www.understood.org/en/articles/building-resilience-in-kids
- Mathers, Connie. "10 SMART Goals Examples for Kids." Develop Good Habits. 4 November, 2022. https://www.developgoodhabits.com/smart-goals-kids/
- Gonzales, Jessica. "Five Reasons Why You Should Ask For Help More Often." Thrive. https://thriveglobal.com/stories/five-reasons-why-you-should-ask-for-help-more-often/