Building Resilience in Children and Adolescents

Thrive Psychology Clinic > Blog > Building Resilience in Children and Adolescents

February 15, 2021 / By thadmin2

Stress is an inevitable aspect of our lives, and we face a variety of strains and stressors throughout the different developmental stages – be it during childhood, adolescence or adulthood. Importantly, stress, when ineffectively managed, can persist over the years and gradually accumulate to result in more lasting and detrimental consequences on our overall well-being – leading to emotional disorders like anxiety and depression, as well as other physical(bodily) and mental problems (Lupien et al., 2009; Southwick et al., 2005). As such, teaching our children to be able to navigate and deal with stress is pertinent in ensuring that the deleterious effects of stress do not take a toll on our child’s mental and physical well-being. Research has found that resilience allows individuals to successfully cope and adapt to stress, while also conferring a multitude of other benefits which include self-regulation capabilities, social competency, agreeableness, positive emotionality and many more (Reich et al., 2012). One way in which we can nurture our children to be able to defend themselves against the effects of stress, as they develop into strong and capable adults, is hence through building their resilience.

 

What is resilience?

Resilience is the ability to overcome difficult experiences – such as stress, adversity, failure, challenges, or even trauma, and be shaped positively by them. When faced with tough and difficult situations, resilient individuals are able to respond positively instead of succumbing to the devastating effects of the mishap. Staying positive and demonstrating resilience is typically observed by individuals who learn from the misfortune or their mistakes, are able to look on the bright side of events, and are able to easily pick themselves up instead of wallowing in sorrow and misery of misfortune. Resilience thereby promotes flexible thinking and a positive mindset, as individuals are able to come up with more creative solutions and responses to the negative events that fall upon them. 

 

Why is having resilience important?

Having a resilient spirit enables individuals to navigate stressful situations with ease, since they have the skills, confidence and positive mindset to confront and resolve the obstacles in front of them. With each setback we successfully and resiliently overcome, our confidence also grows, as we internalize the message that we are strong and capable enough to tackle the difficulties we face without crumbling. Resilience thus serves as a strong and effective buffer against life stressors and hardship, protecting us from the devastating consequences of overwhelming stress. While resilience can be an innate/inborn characteristic which our child posessess, it can be developed and enhanced through one’s environment. Having a nurturing and positive parenting style can serve as a safe space in which our children can feel secure and comfortable to turn to in times of distress or struggle. With that being said, protecting our child from any hardship or struggle would be unhealthy and counteractive to building our child’s resilience. Helping our children solve their difficulties and shielding them from adversity would also not be helpful, since they would not have had the opportunity to experience the struggles of setbacks and try to tackle and overcome them independently, growing their resilience and strength through this process. Here are some helpful strategies which we can adopt to build our child’s resilience.

 

How can we develop resilience in our child?

 

  • Be a positive role model for your child

The first important step we have to take towards inculcating and developing resilience in our child is to first demonstrate resilience to our child. Children learn and imitate from parents during the growing years, thus imprinting and cultivating the necessary skills in our children is important. Emotion regulation is crucial in this case, whereby we are able to handle difficulties calmly and positively and display positive (instead of unhealthy) ways to tackle challenges to our child. One way in which you could do this would be to take responsibility for mistakes in front of your child, such as by saying “I made a mistake, but it’s ok because everyone is bound to make mistakes! Instead, I can focus on learning from my mistake, such as by not doing…”. Another way could be to demonstrate looking positively at the bright side of things, instead of dwelling on past mishaps. You could say “Although this happened, but I’m glad that at least…”. Alongside emotion regulation, stress management is also important, as we are bound to feel stressed coupled with the negative emotions arising from obstacles and/or misfortune that happen to us. Exemplifying healthy coping strategies in response to stress, such as journalling or exercising would hence also be helpful. 

 

  • Build a strong bond with your child

Previous studies have found that having positive social support can enhance one’s resilience towards stress and protect one against developing future potential psychopathology (Ozbay et al., 2007). Thus, building a strong emotional connection and fostering a close bond with your child is also important. Children need a secure base in order to feel safe and confident in exploring the world and the outside environment. This can be done by providing children with a safe space and conveying to them that they can fall back and turn to you in times of need. Not only does this allow you to know all that is going on in your child’s life, it also helps develop their resilience and confidence as you are able to provide them with the strength and courage to pick themselves off their feet and successfully overcome the various difficulties which they stumble upon.

 

  • Encourage flexible thinking and a growth mindset

In addition to being a strong emotional source of support for your child when they come across challenges, building your child’s resilience also entails providing them with helpful advice and a mature perspective to their issues. This can be done by first helping them identify the root of the issue that is causing them distress, and encouraging them to think of solutions to the problem or looking at the obstacle from an alternative perspective that helps them to grow and learn. Teach them to embrace their mistakes, as not every one is perfect and we are all bound to make mistakes at some point of time in our lives. Convey to them the important message that rather than dwelling on our mistakes, accepting them and learning from it is what makes us strong and courageous instead. Gradually, children will learn and model this growth mindset, cultivating their resilience in the long run. Nonetheless, it is still important to acknowledge their emotions which naturally arise from the hardship they are facing, as brushing their emotions aside can also open up a separate host of problems. Acknowledge their negative emotions while finding healthy ways to teach them how to cope with them, as this builds their emotion-regulation skills and ultimately, a resilient spirit. It is okay to feel the emotions they are feeling, and being strong means learning to deal with these negative emotions head-on, rather than sweeping them under the carpet! 

 

  • Build their confidence

An individual’s confidence plays a big role in contributing to our development of resilience. Without self-confidence, we would not have the courage nor the belief in our own capabilities to overcome the hardships and adversity we face. Building up our child’s confidence is thereby crucial as it encourages them to be independent and have faith in their own abilities and strength. One useful strategy we can adopt would be to acknowledge our child’s positive choices and actions rather than focusing and picking on their mistakes. Additionally, the use of negative language on children (such as “You are stupid”, “That’s a dumb thing to do”) can greatly hinder their self-esteem and confidence, hence it could be beneficial to avoid using such language. When they make a mistake, emphasize that the mistake arises from their behaviour which can be altered by themselves. This can help reorient their focus to their behaviour, rather than imply that the problem lies with their lack of capabilities or poor character – which could subsequently hamper their self-confidence. Lastly, praising your child no matter how small the action or deed, can also go a long way in reinforcing their positive behaviour, boosting their self-confidence and increasing their motivation and resilience to bravely tackle challenges ahead of them. 

 

Ultimately, how we respond and guide our child in overcoming their obstacles and challenges greatly influences the development of their strength and resilience. Here at Thrive Psychology clinic, we are committed to helping all children and adolescents thrive! As such, we offer a variety of services and interactive workshops which seek to inculcate and develop the important and necessary skills in our children and youth. Our goal is to get an accurate read on your child’s experiences so that we can create an individualized intervention plan that targets their unique needs. If you would like to find out more about our services or workshops, do contact us and we would be more than happy to assist you! 

 

References

Chatterjee, R. (2019, January 05). Six ways to raise a resilient child. Retrieved February 07, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jan/05/six-ways-to-raise-a-resilient-child

Fleming, J., & Ledogar, R. J. (2008). Resilience, an Evolving Concept: A Review of Literature Relevant to Aboriginal Research. Pimatisiwin, 6(2), 7–23.

Lupien, S., McEwen, B., & Gunnar, M. (2009). Effects of stress throughout the lifespan on the brain, behaviour and cognition. Nat Rev Neurosci 10, 434–445. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2639

Ozbay, F., Johnson, D. C., Dimoulas, E., Morgan, C. A., Charney, D., & Southwick, S. (2007). Social  support and resilience to stress: from neurobiology to clinical practice. Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township)), 4(5), 35–40.

Reich, J. W., Zautra, A., & Hall, J. S. (2012). Handbook of adult resilience. Guilford. 

Southwick, S. M., Vythilingam, M., & Charney, D. S. (2005). The Psychobiology of Depression and 

Resilience to Stress: Implications for Prevention and Treatment. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1(1), 255–291. doi:10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.143948