How to Cultivate Resilience in Your Child

By Casey Newman

As an adult, I’m trying to work on my resilience. It sounds great in theory and I’m not even sure if I’m good at it, but kids are. It seems like they don’t even have to think about it. Get sick? Resilient. Have surgery? Resilient. Experience something stressful or a trauma? Most of the time, pretty resilient.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from stress, illness, challenges and failure. And, just like I’m trying to do for myself, resilience can be cultivated and protected in anyone. 

Here’s the good news: The single most important factor that helps a child develop resilience is having at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent or caregiver, according to Harvard University. 

Another factor that plays into resilience is having trusted friends. The combination of trusted friends and adults or caregivers gives a child the support they need when experiencing distress. 

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This, in combination with a biological resistance to adversity, helps set the stage for resilience. 

And more good news: Resilience isn’t something you’re born with, meaning that you can strengthen and build it through life experience. 

Resilience Protective Factors

Researchers have found that a child’s resilience depends mostly on their connection with supportive people in their lives, rather than the child’s own inherent qualities. Let’s take a look at other factors that act as resilience protectors.

Family factors: 

  • Low family stress and good parenting
  • Sound parental mental health 
  • There’s no alcoholism or drug abuse in the home

Community factors: 

  • A supportive extended family
  • A close community with social support
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Positive school experiences
  • Involvement in a religion or faith

Individual factors:

While I mentioned that resilience isn’t something you’re born with, there are some individual factors a child can possess that makes them more likely to be resilient:

  • Perception of control and the ability to impact their own life
  • Self-esteem and self-efficacy
  • Physical well-being
  • A sense of humor and empathy
  • Emotional regulation

Ways to Cultivate these Protective Factors

Researchers have found that the authoritative parenting style helps cultivate resilience protective factors in children. I know what you’re thinking: Authoritative parenting sounds, well, scary. But it’s not what it seems. Authoritative parenting simply means you have high expectations and high responsiveness to your child. You set limits and are consistent with enforcing boundaries. Yes, you have high expectations, but you’re also highly responsive to your child’s emotional needs, unlike, for example, tough-love parenting, which has high expectations, but low responsiveness to emotional needs.

A common thread that runs through all resilience factors is having a connection with supportive people, whether that be parents, a teacher, a coach, friends or other trusted individuals.

Another great way to foster resilience is to teach your child coping and problem-solving skills. You can do this by encouraging your child to regularly exercise, volunteering and helping your child positively reappraise situations. 

Additional positive coping skills include:

  • Problem-solving
  • The ability to make realistic plans
  • Participation in extracurricular activities

Finally, a stable environment helps with building resilience in children. That means you should take steps to get help for any mental health issues and marriage issues. You can work with your child’s teachers to ensure they’re experiencing a positive school environment, and you can ensure your child develops a positive social network by helping them avoid peers who exert a negative influence. 

That may seem like a lot of work, but don’t worry. Working to cultivate resilience doesn’t mean you have to provide your child with a perfect environment free of struggle. You also don’t need to protect your child from stressors. Learning to deal with and overcome adversity is key to building resilience. Manageable exposure to stress helps your child build up tolerance and coping skills. 

Casey Newman is a mother of two from Green who depends on wine to get her through bathtime and bedtime. She is a maternal and women’s health advocate who volunteers with several birth and maternal rights organizations and has spoken to Congress members about issues affecting moms.