Building Emotional Resilience

Emotional resiliency is the ability to bounce back from stress, adversity, failure, challenges, or even trauma. Children aren’t born with emotional resiliency; it’s a learned skill that can be built upon. Resilient kids are curious, brave, and trusting of their own instincts. They know their limits, and they push themselves to step outside of their comfort zone. This helps children reach for long-term goals and solve problems independently.

Every child encounters stress of varying degrees as they grow. And, despite our best efforts, we can’t protect kids from obstacles. Resilience helps kids navigate large and small stressors such as getting sick, moving to a new neighborhood, encountering bullies, fighting with friends, taking tests, coping with grief, dealing with divorce, etc.

You can imagine how emotional resiliency as a kid would be beneficial well into adulthood.

So how do we help children build emotional resilience? Here are six ways you can help your child.

One-On-One Time

First and foremost, spend quality time with your children. One-on-one time with children allows them to develop emotional resilience in the context of caring relationships. When they feel loved and supported, children develop emotional strength. When kids know they have the unconditional support of a parent, family member, or even a teacher, they feel empowered to work through difficult situations. A close relationship also provides opportunities to model coping and problem-solving skills.

Talk About Feelings

Be sure to talk about feelings so your child learns words for the big and small emotions they experience and learns to share their worries and fears with people they trust. Narrating emotions (“You feel frustrated because you want a cupcake now.”) and asking children about how they feel (“Are you feeling sad that we can’t go see your friend today?”) helps build emotional language and understanding.

Let Them Work It Out

Instead of rushing to solve problems, give kids time to work things out themselves. This can be very hard for caring adults; we naturally would prefer our children not experience pain in any way. But when children experience failure or disappointment, it helps them see that it is survivable and sometimes repairable. And it’s important to praise their effort and encourage them to try again when they struggle with a problem or challenge.

Acknowledge Your Own Mistakes

Acknowledge your own mistakes to teach kids that mistakes are essential for learning and growth. Modeling is one of the best ways we can build emotional resilience in children. When they see us acknowledging mistakes and not falling apart, it sets an example to not let speed bumps keep us from moving forward.

Resist the Urge to “Fix It”

If your child can’t find a solution to a problem, resist the urge to give them the solution. If they’re really struggling, use gentle questioning instead to guide them towards it.

Be Sure Their Physical Needs Are Being Met

Lastly, and it probably goes without saying, ensure kids are eating well and getting enough sleep and exercise. A healthy body is necessary for children to work on emotional resilience. It’s hard enough worrying about how you’re going to cope with your favorite toy breaking when you’re also exhausted or hungry.

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