Raising resilient kids

Can yours rise above setbacks and hardships? A pediatrician offers tips for parents.

As parents it is impossible to prevent our children from experiencing hardships —divorce, financial struggles, illness, death of a loved one just to name a few.

Resiliency is the ability to bounce back and rise above setbacks or hardships. Resilient people see challenges as opportunities. Teaching children how to be resilient is critical,  because It can be learned and improved throughout life, especially with support from a loving, caring adult.

Parenting styles that are authoritative (not authoritarian) instead of permissive, disengaged or authoritarian improve resiliency in children.

Authoritative parents balance warmth and encouragement with expectations of good behaviors. Children are encouraged to make choices and be independent with close parental supervision and clear boundaries.

Permissive parents teach love and give support but tend to trust the child to make the right choices without clear boundaries. Parents tend to view their kids as “pals” more than children who need guidance.

Disengaged parents tend to be busy or otherwise preoccupied and do not provide consistent messages. Children may push behavior to the extreme to get attention.

Authoritarian parents have the attitude of “Do as I say. Why? Because I said so.” Children raised by these parents tend to heed the line to a certain point and then rebel. They follow directions because they are afraid of the consequences but don’t really learn self-discipline or self-responsibility.

Tips for raising resilient kids

Allow children to make mistakes and help them navigate through the solution. Avoid swooping in and fixing the problem. Children will develop a sense of accomplishment when they succeed.

“Failure” can form tenacity. Praise the effort instead of the end results to help children learn the ability to “stick with it” and get over not getting the blue ribbon. Allow children to work through adversity with your support to build confidence in their ability to handle challenges.

Create connections to others or a support system your children can lean on during difficult times. Child or adult, we all need someone to tell us it’s “OK” when times get hard. Actively listening by making eye contact, getting rid of distractions such as phones or computers, and simply being approachable and available creates long-lasting bonds. Family dinners, traditions and having fun together strengthen family ties. Relationships outside of the family, such as at church and school, offer other avenues to feel connected.

Help children learn to cope through verbal discussions, active relaxation or exercise. As parents, we are important role models. Instead of coming home from a hard day angry and complaining, try saying “I had a horrible day. Can you give me a hug that will make me feel better?” or “I am really stressed at work. I think I will go for a walk to calm me down.”

Every parent’s goal is to have their children become happy, healthy adults who have the tools to excel at work, in the home and be prepared to face inevitable challenges. Building resiliency is how we can achieve that goal.

– Erin Frazier, M.D.
Pediatrician and medical director, Children’s Hospital Foundation Office of Child Advocacy

Additional reading

“Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings” by Kenneth R. Ginsburg, M.D., FAAP


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