How to Build Resilience in Kids
Have you ever heard of “bulldozer parenting”? Also known as “lawnmower parenting” or “snowplow parenting” – these terms all signify a parenting style where parents are overly involved and go out of their way to remove any obstacles or challenges that may occur in their child’s life. It’s difficult to build resilience in kids when they don’t face problems.
While few parents set out to adopt a bulldozer parenting style, it can result from our natural instincts as parents. Of course, as parents, we want to protect our children and provide them with a childhood that is fun, enjoyable and positive. But adopting this type of parenting style and removing all challenges could do our children a disservice.
It may be counterintuitive to some parents, but by providing your child with a supportive environment where they can experience and work through challenges on their own helps children develop the skills that they need to develop resiliency. Resiliency is having the ability to overcome adversity or failure and manage and cope with stress. This is not something that children are born with, it is a skill that they learn and develop over time.
It’s important to expose children to a variety of different experiences that will help them learn this skill as they grow and develop throughout childhood. The skill of resilience helps children take risks, show confidence, try new things and establish effective coping strategies and problem-solving tools to help them become successful adults.
Some tips on how parents can build resilience in kids
Promote Emotional Security
Children who know they are loved, valued, cared for and supported have high levels of emotional security and feeling safe and secure helps children practise resiliency. There are many activities that we can do in our child’s day to help promote emotional security:
Provide a home environment that has consistency. This allows children to know what is expected in their day which encourages predictability and promotes success. Having a well established morning, afterschool and bedtime routine that is communicated in an age-appropriate way (picture maps or checklists) can help create this consistency for your child.
Connect with your child. It’s important for children to have one-on-one, child-directed time with their parents. This time should be simple so it occurs on a regular basis – it could be getting down on the floor and playing cars, colouring a picture together, sharing a joke of the day on your walk to school or working together to make the morning smoothie. Not only is this time enjoyable for your child it also helps them feel secure and create a connection with their parent. This helps children see their parents as a support system that they can rely on and come to when they need support.
Make your child aware of their support system. Knowing that many people care about you helps encourage positive emotions, self-esteem, optimism and resilience. Make your kids aware of all the people in their world who are cheering them on – grandparents, teachers, coaches, babysitters, neighbours etc. A great way for kids to recognize this support is to have them call someone in their support system to share their successes – hearing grandma share how proud she is that they were brave at the dentist will ensure your child is aware of the support from their fan club!
Encourage Safe Risk-Taking
Encourage your child to take safe, age-appropriate risks. This will help your child learn what their limits are and encourage them to think about their decisions. Risk-taking shows your child that it is okay to try things and not be successful– this experience helps your child learn how to cope when things go wrong and manage the feelings associated with this.
Young children often see things very black and white – there are only two outcomes – do it or don’t do it. Helping your child learn, with your support, that there is a third option – try to overcome the challenge, helps them recognize that they can try new things, risk failing, but can try and try again. And, when you encourage your child to try new things or overcome their fears it is important to break down the challenge into small steps. This is referred to as the step ladder approach. It helps make challenges more approachable and helps children build on their incremental successes on the road to overcoming a challenge that when viewed as a whole seemed insurmountable.
Parents are a child’s most valuable teacher. Children imitate the people around them – they want to be just like you and are watching everything you do. Share your challenges and struggles – when age-appropriate – with your child. It will be beneficial for them to hear that you have difficulties in your world and to learn how you deal with these challenges. Not only will this experience teach your child the different skills that you use to cope, but it will also help normalize disappointment and challenge.
How to model resiliency:
Use personal storytelling to model your resiliency with your child. This could be sharing stories for your past and present. For example, sharing your worst day in grade one and how you dealt with the experience or how you managed a difficult experience at work or during your day.
Share books, television shows or movies where a character overcomes a challenge. This a very meaningful way to show resiliency. By reading or watching the show with your child you can discuss the challenge that was overcome and the strategies, steps or tools that the character used to overcome the challenge, using the experience as a lesson or teachable moment.