How to raise a resilient child

An excerpt from the Mayo Clinic Guide to Raising a Healthy Child.

If you look it up in the dictionary, you might see the term resilience explained as having the ability to bounce or spring back into shape after being compressed, stretched or bent. Trees are resilient to wind and storm, for example.

Resilience is also a human quality. A resilient person is someone who recovers his or her strength and spirits after undergoing acute or chronic hardship, someone who triumphs in the face of adversity.

Resilience is kind of like an emotional muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. To help your child develop this muscle, encourage him or her absorb the following key concepts.

Decisions have consequences. Allow your child to experience the outcome of his or her decisions. When parents make all of the decisions, children can get the sense that what they do or feel doesn’t matter. They may feel that their parents doubt their abilities to participate in the decision-making process or to make decisions by themselves.

When appropriate, allow your child to make decisions and let the results play out. For example, if your daughter insists on wearing her fancy dress-up shoes to the playground, let her. Soon enough, she’ll figure out the best footwear for avoiding hot feet and blisters. If your son is confident that he’s studied enough for tomorrow’s test, let the test results reveal the rightness or wrongness of his decision. Your child will learn that decisions have consequences, an important life lesson. As your child becomes more experienced in making choices, he or she becomes wiser, more confident and better able to examine the potential outcomes of his or her decisions.

Failure is a part of life. It’s important for children to learn that failure isn’t a deal-breaker. If your child sees failure as an opportunity to learn rather than quit, he or she is more likely to try new things and get better at them.

Teach your child that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and you don’t always come in first. But losing a soccer match or failing an audition shouldn’t stop your child from trying again. Emphasize that skills can be learned and developed.

To encourage effort and perseverance, praise your child for working hard at something, even if he or she doesn’t win or achieve perfection. Regardless of your child’s aptitude for math, for example, focus on the amount of effort he or she puts into learning and practicing math skills. Avoid commenting on your child’s innate abilities — this can lead your child to believe that if he or she isn’t naturally good at something, then why bother? Instead say, “I really like how you tried a lot of different strategies to figure out that tough math problem.” Even if your child isn’t able to do everything perfectly or even well, he or she will still learn important skills and grow through the process.

Take a similar approach if your child signs up for a sport or class and wants to stop participating because he or she is bored or doesn’t feel good enough at it. Encourage your son or daughter to stick it out until the sport is over or the class is finished. Doing so helps your child learn to see a task or project through and reinforces the idea of not giving up on something too quickly because it’s challenging or difficult. If there are legitimate reasons to quit, certainly it’s important to do so, but persevering has benefits, too. By the end, your child might even enjoy the activity or decide to pursue it further.

Everyone has strengths. Every child has unique abilities. For some kids, conventional areas such as academics or sports may not be their strong suit. But they may have strengths in other areas, such as in creativity or courage.

For example, you might notice that your child, who could really care less about school, has a keen interest in taking things apart to see how they work. Make a visit to the flea market or secondhand shop to purchase an old radio or clock that your child can freely disassemble and rework. Or perhaps your child is fearless when it comes to the outdoors. Find opportunities to safely guide and challenge your child’s adventurous spirit, such as joining a scout program or taking a rock climbing class.

Help your child discover and develop his or her character strengths. Be honest about what your child can do — kids know when grownups aren’t being sincere — but be positive. Encourage your child to develop his or her strengths and to look for opportunities to use them. Using a skill to help others, for instance, can be a major confidence booster for a child.

Letting your child learn 

Allowing your child to learn from failure requires you to step back and let your child experience failure in the first place.

If you’re like most parents, you might struggle with finding the balance between stepping in and protecting your child versus stepping back and allowing your child to grow — a delicate balance that’s continually shifting as your child gets older.

If your child is facing a situation in which his or her safety is at risk, your intervention is appropriate and necessary. But if your child has broken a rule at school or hasn’t completed an assignment on time, let him or her face the consequences. This will help your child learn that the rules apply to him or her and to keep better track of assignments and deadlines.

Also, make room for your child to advocate for himself or herself. If your child thinks a teacher is being unfair, encourage him or her to respectfully speak up. If your child experiences bumps in a friendship, avoid interfering. Instead, offer a listening ear. Work with your child to come up with a solution or discuss what he or she thinks is the best way forward. Offer your support and give advice when asked.

Support your child while letting him or her learn life’s lessons. Keep in mind that by allowing your child to face challenges and develop strategies for dealing with them, you’re providing important future skills.

Angela Mattke is a pediatrician and author of the Mayo Clinic Guide to Raising a Healthy Child.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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