Raising Resilient Children: Q&A With Dr. Mary

Mary Rosen

kids on banana boat

Today, Dr. Mary is discussing the concept of resiliency in children and ways that we can help to raise the resiliency of our own kids.

Q: A teacher friend of mine has mentioned the importance of "resilient" children and how her school has started to teach parents ways to promote resilience at home. What exactly is this and why is it important?

A: The concept of resilience in psychology has been around for awhile. It is typically thought of as the capacity to adapt or recover in the face of challenging or even harmful situations.

Resilient kids are those who, despite their difficult lives (e.g., growing up in poverty, having health issues, having a parent with mental illness, etc.), still manage to come out on top and essentially overcome adversity. Their "outcome" was expected to be poor, but because of certain personal and environmental qualities, they managed to be successful. So, essentially, this idea that certain characteristics are associated with better stress management is now being applied to a wider range of kids, in a more practical way, in both school and home.

We know that children today, for multiple reasons, are under greater pressure and stress than in the past. So, it makes sense to teach them resiliency skills as a way to prepare for the many challenges they will encounter throughout life.

Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, a professor of pediatrics, has written about this very topic in  A Parent's Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens. In his book, he discusses seven critical domains of resiliency ("7 Crucial Cs") that he feels are all interconnected. Below is a brief description of each and some suggestions on how parents can reinforce these characteristics with their own children:

1. Competence. Resilient kids make responsible decisions and trust their judgment. They face and have the skills to deal with tough situations effectively. Some things that parents can do to encourage competency are to comment on what your child does skillfully, rather than focus on weaknesses; allow your kid to make mistakes, so he/she can figure out what's best, on their own, to correct their errors; and avoid comparing the strengths/weaknesses of one child with his/her siblings(s).

2. Confidence. This refers to a belief in one's abilities, and children gain confidence through showing their competence in the real world. Kids who have confidence in their skills are more likely to try new things. The author suggests that parents can build their kids' confidence by identifying and extending upon their individual strengths. Think about what your child does well, and compliment him in a genuine manner. Avoid focusing solely on what your child has done incorrectly or what needs to be improved.

3. Connection. Connections to one's family creates solid values, and children are more likely to have a broader sense of belonging and feelings of safety and security if they are also involved in groups outside the family, including educational, religious, and athletic groups. Parents can facilitate a sense of connection by providing kids with various opportunities to interact with these groups and encouraging kids to develop relationships with positive others outside the family.

4. Character. Kids that have resiliency have a lot of confidence and a solid feeling of self-worth. They have a basic idea of wrong and right and show caring towards others. By modeling a concerned attitude for others and emphasizing how others are affected by one's actions, parents can demonstrate this sense of character for their kids.

5. Contribution. This involves the understanding that taking action improves our world. When they give back, kids develop a sense of purpose that becomes motivational and their feelings of competence, character, and connection are reinforced. Dr. Ginsburg suggests that parents convey to kids that they can be agents of change. Parents must create specific opportunities for children to practice the act of contributing and must model similar behavior.

6. Coping. Children who are resilient have a variety of positive coping skills for handling stress and are ultimately better equipped to handle problems. Parents can facilitate positive coping skills by encouraging the expression of emotion within the family and through the modeling of positive coping strategies, such as relaxation and constructive problem solving.

7. Control. Resilient children have a sense of internal control. They understand that their actions influence the outcomes of situations and that things do not always occur randomly. One thing parents can do to help children feel more in control is help them understand that not all situations can be controlled; however, we can choose or manage how we react to these situations.

By developing these characteristics, parents (and teachers) are giving kids necessary tools to manage stress and to navigate their incredibly complicated world.

Dr. Mary Rosen is here each week to provide answers to your most pressing school issues. She's a school psychologist, licensed counselor, graduate school instructor, and parent.

Got a question about school learning and behavior for Dr. Mary? Leave it in the comments below or email us, and Dr. Mary may answer your question in a future post.


Image via Scott Ableman/Flickr

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