Promote Greater Resilience in Children and Teens with 3 Simple Actions

Resilience is a hot topic, especially after the pandemic quarantines and subsequent unpredictability for children, teens, and adults alike. As a parent, we cannot control many things that happen in our children's lives socially or at school. However, we can empower our children by teaching them resiliency and emotional intelligence skills to help them respond effectively to life's curveballs and challenges.

Emotional fitness defends against the effects of stress like physical exercise creates healthy, toned muscles that prevent injury. Just like our muscles need stretching and exertion to grow strong, children need to flex and practice self-calming, managing emotions, and bridling their thoughts effectively to grow strong in emotional intelligence and resilience.

A father connecting and conversing with his daughterTeaching Children and Teens Resiliency Impacts Them for Life

Parenting today requires not just love but being intentional about our interactions with our children. Our responses as parents either uplift or deflate; encourage or discourage; help a child think for themselves or just do what they're told. Either way, parents have an enormous influence on children's lives.

Here are some often overlooked ways to enhance resiliency, emotional maturity, and positive self-esteem.

Assist Children and Teens to Create Meaningful Connections

Thoughts lead to how we feel. Feelings influence the meaning we conclude about our experiences. By helping children and teens to interpret their experiences more accurately and find meaning in them, they learn how to become the architects of their lives.

Mother creating a playful and meaningful moment with her 3-year-old daughter by rubbing nosesThe mind is a great storyteller, and unless a child learns how to monitor their mind chatter wisely, it's easy to fabricate unfavorable and downright untrue meanings about themselves and the world. The majority of mind chatter lacks validity. Many tall stories can be manufactured out of fears and doubts, which can bruise budding self-esteem when left unchecked. Whatever a child or teen concludes can negatively or positively influence their self-concept and future actions. 

That's where parents come in!

We have the opportunity to help children be curious, think intelligently, and question the conclusions that they may be drawing.

For example, one young eight-year-old boy I counseled had concluded that his mother loved him more than his sister because he didn't get angry, and she did. After exploring his conclusions and helping him understand the purpose of anger, he realized that his premise was false.

Two siblings fighting angrily over a touchpadOnce he understood that anger was a natural feeling to let us know when we felt threatened and signal us to care for ourselves, the emotion made more sense to him and gained value. The new perspective gave him permission to feel and express anger more freely. He had been stuffing it to win his mom's approval. This new awareness also halted his teasing of his sister since he was provoking her anger to be the favored child. We brainstormed how to be true to himself, resolve conflict with his sister in healthier ways, and ask for the attention he wanted from his mom directly.

A great opportunity to empower your child or teen is by carving quality time with them for meaningful conversations to help unpack and correct false beliefs that may be forming. Greater insight and understanding can help them press the refresh button of their attitudes and conclusions.

Look for your child's reactions that may stem from inaccurate or incomplete conclusions like the story above. Have heart-to-heart conversations with your child whenever the time is right—you'll be surprised how much more connected you and your child feel. And they'll get the advantage of your wisdom.

Related reading: "Positive Parenting: 3 Parenting Strategies for Greater Patience."

Ask Open-Ended Questions to Encourage Meaningful Dialogue with Your Child

So much of our weeks are filled with logistics and making sure everyone is at the right place at the right time. However, one of the best ways to enrich your relationship with your children and teens is through conversations that are simple, yet profound teaching moments.

Now I'm not suggesting that this is necessarily a daily thing, but keeping an eye out for opportunities that present themselves is crucial. Otherwise, they miss out on your guidance and support, and you miss out on what's going on in their hearts, minds, and lives.

A mother and her teenage son in a car having a meaningful conversationHere are some possible curiosity scripts that can prime the pump.

  • "Tell me more about that experience. I'm wondering what that was like for you."
  • "What are you thinking and feeling about ...?"
  • "What is it about that experience that was most meaningful to you?" (Or difficult or enjoyable.)
  • "Is there another perspective that could support you better?"

And below are a few sample questions to ask your child to build emotional resilience.

  • "Is what you're saying to yourself encouraging or discouraging?"
  • "How could you look at this situation differently?"
  • "What strengths do you have that can be applied to this situation?"
  • "What could you do right now to feel a little better?"
  • "Is there another perspective that might give you some answers?"

Help Children Connect the Dots of Their Behavior with Outcomes

If a person feels that they do not have the power to impact their experiences, it's easy to get discouraged or feel powerless. This sense of helplessness is especially true for children who are dependent and often directed by the adults in their lives for a large part of their day.

However, how we respond to experiences is something we do have control over. Our responses to everyday experiences often determine how our outcomes turn out. For instance, a student talking back disrespectfully to a teacher is certainly going to have a very different outcome than a question asked respectfully to clarify.

The sooner children learn how to connect the dots of their behaviors with outcomes, the sooner they make better choices.

Help your child or teen to see how their behavior sets a chain of events in motion. This awareness gives them the power to change their actions in the future. Then they can adjust their responses to better care for themselves and choose more wisely according to values and what's important to them.

Conclusions that invoke proactive attitudes and constructive actions are the gateways to more successful relationships and happier life.

Related reading: "How Resilience Can Help You Cultivate Happiness."

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Jennifer A. Williams / Parent CoachJennifer A. Williams / Parent Coach
Jennifer is the Heartmanity Founder and a parent coach and behavioral consultant with two decades of experience. She is a Parent Instructor and Instructor Trainer for the International Network of Children and Families and author of several parenting courses, including How to Bully-Proof Your Child and Hacking the Teen Brain. Jennifer is happily married and a mother to 3 fantastic grown children.

Posted in Perfectly Imperfect Parenting

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