One of the most important skills we can teach our children is the value of resilience. What exactly is resilience? According to psychologists, some of the factors that make someone resilient include a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. Even after a misfortune, blessed with such an outlook, resilient people are able to change course and soldier on. (Psychology Today) We all experience setbacks, disappoints, and failures — perceived or real. Resilience is the quality to rise up and come back more determined than ever.
I’m not going to sugarcoat the reality of our culture today. Kids (children and teens) must confront myriad stressors: at home, in school, in their social lives, from the media, and most of all from themselves. And you can bet they are internalizing these pressures to be “perfect,” regardless of how amazing we tell them they are. We live in a culture of comparison, where at every turn we seem to measure success by achievements. Now, I’m not saying that ambition is a negative thing. By all means, we want our children to set high standards for themselves and do everything possible to reach those goals. But as parents and educators, it is tantamount to give young people tools to cope with disappointment (when they can’t meet their goals, or if meeting their goals does not give them the pay-off they imagined). Expectations are suburb: but children need strategies to manage expectations lest they become all-consuming. Everyone faces challenges that are out of our control, but the trick is to reclaim agency and build a strong sense of internal character.
Here are some ideas and tips on how to build resilience in your child or teen at home and at school. I can’t think of a better way to start off the New Year!
- Encourage Mentoring Relationships. Help your child to develop a mentoring relationship with an adult who is outside of your immediate family. This will build positive connectedness with the world and a vision of the world as a place for growth and opportunity.
- Build A Sense of Agency. The more a child feels in control of his or her actions, the more he or she will build a sense of internal control, even in a world where ultimate control is an illusion. By making decisions on their own, children will understand the nature of consequences — positive and negative, and little by little they will develop a sense of agency.
- Teach Children To Manage Expectations. Expectations are a natural part of existing in the social and scholastic world. And while a holistic approach to managing expectations promotes individual expectations over collective ones, the reality of life is that students must deal with external expectations at some point. Work at home or with an outside professional to develop strategies on how to teach your child ways to effectively manage expectations without letting them be all-consuming.
- Limit Social Media. While children (and adults too) might find it impossible to live in the world without engaging in social media, it is completely possible! We are all aware of the studies that link social media with depression and anxiety, especially in females. Social media fosters what is known as a “cultivated self” — as people get to handpick the aspects of themselves to create a profile, which essentially is an illusory self. This is a hard concept even for adults to grasp, let alone children. The expression, FOMO (fear of missing out) is one result of social media infiltrating the minds and souls of children and teens who engage with it regularly. Many of my students tells me they use social media to help keep up with assignments and work “virtually” with their peers on schoolwork. I completely believe them. But social media can suck away a student’s precious time, and in many cases can become addictive and foster competition and feelings of low self-esteem. By “snooping” on other people’s lives, social media can trigger feelings of resentment and envy. You might want to suggest that during periods of stress, or especially intense times at schools, that students deactivate their accounts (temporarily) to avoid the temptation of logging on and getting distracted from the realities of their own lives. Encourage activities outside the house, and talk with your children about the difference between perception and reality.
- Advocacy. Encourage your child or teen to become involved with an advocacy cause. By standing up for the rights of others, students will feel empowered and worthwhile and think outside of themselves.
- Mantras and Affirmations. We are becoming a nation of slogans. Unfortunately, people often repeat slogans without fully understanding them or making them personal and relevant. But, by making your own mantras or affirmations, you can reclaim a slogan and make it meaningful. Encourage your child to come up with a positive slogan to start each day. Words are powerful, both consciously and unconsciously. Saying is believing!
- Model Resilience. Parents and educators are humans, and it is impossible for us to model resilience all of the time. However, we must do our best not to berate our failures (perceived or real) because children and teens are watching our every move, even when we think they aren’t (or even when they roll their eyes at us). The more open you are to the world as a positive place despite the inevitable disappointments, the more your child will see it as one.
For strategies on how to foster resilience in children and teens, check out this fantastic book, Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots by Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, FAAP.