Tips for Building Resilience in Children

By FCPS & Fairfax County Government
January 12, 2021

Many parents want their children to have a life that is free from stress, worry, and struggle. It is only natural to wish the best for your children, but in reality, life is full of unpredictable challenges. A big part of a parent’s job is teaching children how to face those challenges, navigate through them, and ultimately overcome them. That is a skill that children need to develop as they are growing up, and as they inevitably make the transition into adulthood and out of their safety net.

What is Resilience?

You’ve heard the saying, “If you fall off the horse, get right back on.” Like a rider who faces his fears and climbs back in the saddle, a resilient person demonstrates flexibility and determination in the face of life’s challenges and disappointments. Resilient individuals do not give up easily and are able to recover from setbacks.

If you have ever watched a baby learning to walk, then you know that children are hardwired for resilience. Babies fall down over and over again, and their determination to walk propels them to get back up and keep trying until they are cruising from one piece of furniture to the next, then running while you try to catch up.

Getting up and trying again after failing is an act of courage, and children demonstrate this from an early age. So, how can parents encourage a spirit of resiliency and help it to blossom in their children?

Modeling

When a baby sees others walking, he imagines that he can do it too. When adults, like parents and grandparents, encourage him as he is pulling up and starting to take steps, the joy and excitement they express only encourages his persistence in the face of frustration. If he is upset when he falls, receiving a comforting hug from a caretaker can help him to reset and try again.

As children grow up, they continue to look to adults for how to handle themselves when larger disappointments come. Learning to set the table, ride a bike, or play an instrument are examples of challenging tasks older children face. It is guaranteed that no child will get it right the first time. Parents can help teach and guide, set age-appropriate expectations, and praise children for doing their best and keeping a positive attitude. This helps children learn that failure is not the end, just a stepping stone. If you see your children being too hard on themselves, talk with them about setting better personal expectations, being kind to themselves, learning to forgive themselves for failing, and perseverance.

Regulating Emotions

Children must be able to manage their own frustration and disappointment to be able to try a difficult task again and again. Sometimes it’s okay to have a good cry and express frustration. However, going back to the example of a baby, she quickly learns that crying might get her picked up from the floor, but it doesn’t make her able to walk. If she wants to move around on her own, she has to overcome the frustration and keep trying.

As your children get older, you can help them develop greater emotional regulation or the ability to control impulses and emotions. Participating in activities that develop self-discipline, like sports, music, or martial arts, and playing with other children can support your children’s social emotional development.

Healthy Relationships

Safety, stability, trust, and belonging are all derived from healthy relationships. Children who are learning to walk rely on adults to keep them protected while they are learning. You pad the sharp edges of the furniture, cover the floor to soften their fall, and add the baby gate to keep them from tumbling down the stairs. They can safely learn to walk, because you have made home a safe, nurturing place for them.

This carries over in other situations. Your children need to know that they have a safe place with you and other family members and friends. They benefit from a positive structure within the family, having caring, loving warmth through childhood, and having an encouraging and stimulating environment. They need you to teach them how to bond and interact in a positive, loving way with family members, friends, teachers, mentors, and others. If you model healthy relationships for your children, it will help them to build similar relationships on their own. That network of caring people can be a support to them when they are feeling down or in crisis.

As your children grow up, there will be more opportunities for them to build on these skills to become more resilient. Your job as a parent is to encourage them to keep on facing challenges, help them develop strategies for dealing with them, and be there to be a support when they need help or comfort. This is all part of the process of preparing your child to become an independent adult who can bounce back on their own.

Need More Support?

This posting is from the Fairfax County Department of Family Services (DFS) Community Corner where you’ll find timely information about upcoming events, parenting and wellness tips, programs and services, and more! The DFS Parenting Education Programs is now enrolling for its upcoming classes. Join them for more information about positive and effective ways parents can interact with their children at every age and stage of development. They would love to hear from you. If you have questions or feedback about the topic in this article, send them an email at DFSinfo@fairfaxcounty.gov.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis, text HOME to 741741 to reach a crisis counselor, call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 911.

The Healthy Minds Blog shares information related to youth mental health and wellness for an audience of parent, educators and community-based providers. Articles include tips and strategies for increasing wellness and resiliency, as well as fostering success at home, at school and in the community.

The Healthy Minds Blog is a collaborative project between Fairfax County Public Schools and the Prevention Unit of the Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood and Community Services. It is part of the Healthy Minds Fairfax (see below) initiative, designed to support emotional wellness in youth and families.

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