Life won’t always be easy, and often the best thing we can do for our children is foster a growth skill mindset to help them adapt to the big or small problems they encounter, helping them discover different solutions along the way. Emotional resilience—rather than emotional resistance—is a lifelong value and skill that children can cultivate with your support.
Often, emotional resilience is about learning to problem solve by reframing a problem as an opportunity for developing emotional literacy, creative thinking, and critical thinking. Here, we’ll discuss what developing a problem solving ability may look like for kids and how these skills can help them evolve and grow long into the future.
What Is Problem Solving for Kids?
No matter what age we are, solving complex problems is a way of navigating difficult situations productively, both by finding new solutions and reframing our experience positively.
Problem solving skills can be especially valuable to children when it comes to building resilience. According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is the process and result of learning to adjust to challenging situations. This may come in the form of:1
- Developing coping strategies, like mindfulness or noticing practices
- Drawing on social resources, and support systems, and learning to ask for help
- Changing our attitudes and perspectives through a positive outlook
Every individual can face unique challenges when it comes to developing resiliency. Depending on a parent or child’s background, access to social resources, or relation to systemic issues, building resilience is not always one-size-fits-all. However, generally speaking, learning to problem solve can be an effective way of building resilience internally, teaching kids how to overcome challenges while experiencing tough feelings and complex problems in the process.
3 Ways to Build Resilience Through Problem Solving
Solving a difficult math problem is one thing, but learning to navigate harsh emotional waters requires different types of problem solving. Here, we’ve laid out 3 activities for teaching problem solving and helping build resilience in children in the process.
#1 Modeling Strategies and Skills
Children are naturally observant, and being a caregiver means you have a unique opportunity to teach problem solving by example.
One way to do so is to show your children how you use coping skills to move through difficult emotions and situations. For example, the next time you’re feeling an uncomfortable emotion, try to communicate about the feeling and pair it with a specific coping strategy.
- “I’m feeling frustrated, so I’m going to take a walk to calm down.”
- “I’m feeling sad, so I’m going to call a friend and share my feelings.”
Not only can this offer your little learners a specific roadmap to follow when they experience negative feelings, but it can also make emotions seem less scary and easier to manage as they grow.2
While it can be helpful to use coping strategies, it’s critical to remember the importance of helping your child acknowledge their feelings, safely encouraging them to share them with you, and trying to understand what may be causing them. In this sense, you can help build a strong and trusting connection with your child.
#2 Developing Routines Together
As young children learn and grow, many struggle with emotional regulation. Creating daily child development routines can:
- Encourage a sense of safety and relaxation in your household
- Help kids shift their attention so they can give their feelings some space
- Offer children some familiar, actionable steps for handling uncomfortable feelings
Another way to think about these routines is that they can help create external stability, even when internal feelings can be inconsistent or unpredictable. When you develop a ritual of breakfast storytime or take a moment to cuddle with lovable snugglers or stuffed animals before bed, many kids can learn to lean on these steady routines in moments of uncertain feelings. And better yet, they can rely on Sloth to help develop comforting and empowering routines.
#3 Promoting Positivity
There’s an incredible connection between the power of positive language and thinking and fostering resilience. As a parent, you have the opportunity to help kids reflect on their internal perspectives, and provide support and optimism when they’re upset.
In this regard, it’s essential to keep in mind that positivity has to come from within. While you can help your child find the silver lining in tough or emotional situations, make sure they have the space to reflect on and validate their emotions. This can help your child identify their negative emotions, learn how to navigate them, and develop a positive, resilient mindset––all with the support of your empathy and attention.
Let’s say your child comes home from school feeling sad about getting left out of a playdate. Some positive ways to help them approach the situation could be:
- Acknowledging their feelings and empathizing with them
- Explaining that it’s okay for friends to play with others
- Reminding them of upcoming events they have to look forward to
- Asking them if there’s an affirmation they can say out loud to help themselves feel better
At the end of the day, it’s important to normalize the notion of being ‘left out.’ Try explaining to your child that being left out of a playdate doesn’t mean they’re not liked or loved by others. Rather, help them understand that it’s okay for friends to have other playdates, but that it’s also okay to feel sad about missing a playdate. This approach can help your child connect with you about their emotions as they grow.
When negative things happen, it can be helpful to encourage kids to consider the bigger picture so that they can see its positive, negative, and neutral elements. This can help them begin to understand that even the most difficult hardships are often temporary.3 However, this may apply differently to each family and background, especially in areas where families and children live under varying societal pressures.
If your child is dealing with big emotions, there are plenty of calming strategies for kids that can help them navigate their emotions and learn from them.
While the suggestions above can be useful to help reframe a positive mindset, it’s important to let your child know you understand and empathize with what they’re going through. This can help remind them of their own value and the value of their feelings.
Why Is Building Resilience Skills Important?
Like it or not, children will encounter myriad challenges as they mature—and one hallmark of growth is being able to process, problem solve, and move through tough situations rather than avoid them.
Ideally, the resilience skills you teach your kids now will evolve with them. Psychiatrists have found that older adults who practice resilience through a problem solving activity, a routine, or other resilience activities have better health outcomes and an improved quality of life overall.4 If you can help your children create their own problem solving toolkit now, they can manifest a brighter, more positive, and fulfilling future to look forward to.
Build Resilience Through Connection with Slumberkins
There are countless ways children can pick up skills when it comes to solving problems. From watching their loved ones overcome obstacles to reading about how their favorite characters navigate less-than-comfortable feelings, Slumberkins is here to guide you through all the ups and downs.
Resilience is a lifelong journey—for children and adults—and fostering it comes with its fair share of trial and error. But celebrating emotional growth through turbulence, chances are the whole family can come in for a soft landing through it all.
- "Resilience." American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience
- Cairone, Karen. "Three Ways to Build Children’s Resilience." Education Development Center. 1 September, 2019. https://www.edc.org/blog/three-ways-build-childrens-resilience
- "Resilience guide for parents and teachers." American Psychological Association. Updated 26 August, 2020. https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience/guide-parents-teachers
- Linkov, Igor et al. "Resilience and Healthy Aging." Psychiatric Times. 26 July, 2021. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/resilience-and-healthy-aging