Research has shown that resilience is
the most important quality you can instill in your children.
Heres how to help them handle any challenge with
confidence.If you were asked what you wanted in life
for your kids, you might say happiness, success in school,
close friendship, a loving family, and a gratifying
career. Although you cant give your kids all these
things, you can help them develop the trait that is
the key to attaining them: resilience. Countless studies
have shown that resilience - having the inner strength
to cope with any challenge - is crucial for children
who face severe adversity. But in our fast-paced, stressful
world, all kids need the capacity to overcome obstacles
and deal with disappointments - whether in school, on
the soccer field, or at the playground. In our combined
50 years of practice as clinical psychologists, weve
seen how many parents actually undermine their kids
ability to be resilient rather than reinforce it. Here
are ten ways to help them feel confident and in control
of their lives.
1. Be empathetic. The ability to see the world through
your kids eyes is essential for fostering resilience.
You dont have to agree with everything they do,
but try to appreciate and validate their point of view.
When they know that youre really listening, theyre
more like to look to you for guidance.
Of course, its much more difficulty to be empathetic
when youre angry with your kids or disappointed
in their behavior - but thats when its most
important. Sally, a shy 6-year-old, was often prompted
by her parents to greet family friends they ran into.
Sally had always been timid and overwhelmed in new situations,
but her parents couldnt understand why she couldnt
be more polite. They warned her that if she didnt
learn to say hello, other people wouldnt want
to be with her. Although Sallys parents thought
they were helping her, they failed to realize that her
shyness was an inborn temperamental trait that couldnt
be overcome simply by their telling her to be more sociable.
In order to be empathetic, you need to continually stop
and think about how youd feel if someone said
to you the same things youre saying to your children.
If Sallys mom were equally shy, how would she
feel if her husband or boss told her to look people
in the eye? She would probably be more self-conscious
and anxious, as well as angry at their lack of understanding.
A more empathetic approach to a shy child might be to
say, Many kinds find it hard to say hello. Ill
do whatever I can to make it easier for you. Maybe you
could start by just smiling at people, and eventually
youll feel ready to say hi. This would give
the child hope that the situation could improve.
When you demonstrate empathy on a day-to-day basis,
youre also teaching your children the skill thats
crucial for maintaining satisfying relationships. And
having close friends to lean on when times are tough
will certainly help your kids be even more resilient.
2. Communicate with respect. Always consider whether
youre saying things in a way that will make your
children more receptive. Dont interrupt them,
put them down, tell them how they should be feeling,
or use absolutes such as always and never in a critical
way (You never help out).
Take the time to answer your kids questions, even
if they ask the same ones repeatedly. Questions are
their attempts to understand the world, feel a sense
of mastery, and solve problems, all of which are linked
to a resilient mind-set. If your kids feel that their
questions are silly or bothersome, theyll stop
Its also important to be honest with your kids.
Children usually know when their parents are keeping
secrets from them. For example, one couple we know hadnt
told their 8-year-old twins that their grandmother had
ovarian cancer because they didnt want to upset
them. The girls sensed that something was wrong, however,
and we advised their parents to be honest with the girls
in a way they could understand. Were not suggesting
that you discuss issues that are very personal or beyond
your childrens emotional or cognitive abilities,
but hiding a difficult situation conveys to children
that you dont think they can handle it. As a result,
theyll be deprived of an opportunity to learn
how to cope with stress or sadness.
3. Be flexible. Parents want their children to be adaptable,
thoughtful, and receptive to new ideas, but they often
fail to model these behaviors. The most well-meaning
parents use the same approach with their kids time after
time even though it hasnt been successful - for
example, we know parents who have nagged their kids
for years to clean their room, without results.
If something youve said or done for a reasonable
amount of time isnt working, think about what
you can do differently, instead of having useless power
struggles. Relaxing rules about finishing all the food
on a dinner plate or taking a bath every night, for
example, doesnt mean that youre backing
down or spoiling your children. It teaches them that
there alternatives ways of solving problems and that
you can learn from your mistakes. If you refuse to reconsider
your way of doing things, your kids will be less likely
to try different tactics when they face challenges throughout
4. Give undivided attention. Kids feel loved when they
know their parents enjoy being with them. This feeling
of specialness is integral to their self-esteem. In
fact, studies of resilience have found that kids who
overcame a very difficult childhood all had at least
one adult in their life who truly believed in them.
Schedule a time - even if its only 15 minutes
daily - to give each of your children undivided attention.
Five-year-old Stephanies parents put time aside
each evening to play with her, but whenever the phone
rang, they would interrupt their activity and explain
that phone calls were important. Eventually, Stephanie
started to feel she wasnt as important as the
phone calls and watched videos instead to avoid being
5. Accept your kids for who they are. Your children
may not match your expectations, but its vital
to recognize their innate temperaments. When kids feel
appreciated for who they are, theyll feel more
secure reaching out to others and learning how to solve
Nine-year-old Carl often dawdled in the morning and
missed the school bus. His parents became increasingly
angry about his irresponsibility and decided not to
let him continue the after-school activities he enjoyed.
They didnt understand that Carl was slow not because
he was irresponsible but because he was very distractible
by nature. Instead of yelling or punishing him, it would
have been more effective for his parents to talk to
him about what he thought might help him get ready more
quickly. We know another child whose parents arranged
for him to be the school tardy monitor,
which entailed arriving early and keeping track of which
students were late. The child loved the responsibility
and motivated to get to school on time.
Of course, accepting your kids for who they are doesnt
mean that you should excuse inappropriate behavior,
but try to understand it and help change it in a way
that doesnt erode their self-esteem.
6. Give kids a chance to contribute. From an early age,
kids love to be helpful. In one of our studies, when
we asked adults about their most positive memories of
school, the most common ones involved being asked to
help in some way - tutoring a younger child, painting
murals, or running the film projector in class.
When we enlist children in helping others, we communicate
our faith in their ability to handle a variety of tasks
and given them a sense of responsibility. We believe
that by age 3, kids should have one responsibility at
home - but instead of calling it a chores, say, We
need your help.
7. Treat mistakes as learning experiences. Kids whose
parents over-react to mistakes tend to avoid taking
risks and end up blaming others for their problems.
Its easy to get frustrated if your child spills
his milk for the third time in a row, but you need to
convey that mistakes are a natural part of life - for
kids and grown-ups. Tell your children, for example,
that Walt Disneys first cartoon company went bankrupt.
Set a good example: If you drip chocolate ice cream
on your sweater, have a sense of humor about it. You
can also help prepare your child for mistakes. If youre
teaching your child to ride a two-wheeler, for example,
tell her that it takes time to learn how to balance
and that most kids fall at first.
8. Stress your childrens strengths. Although resilient
kids arent deterred by failure, they also relish
successes. Their sense of accomplishment and pride gives
them the confidence to persevere the next time they
face a challenge. Not all children are naturally athletic,
artistic, or popular, but every child has his strengths
- and its your job as a parent to draw attention
to them. In order for children to truly believe in themselves,
they need to experience success.
Nine-year-old Amelia had developmental delays and few
friends. However, because she was gentle and loved helping
others, her parents contacted a local nursing home and
arranged for her to spend time with a woman who rarely
had visitors. Amelia felt so appreciated there that,
before long, she started reaching out to her classmates.
9. Let your kids solve problems and make decisions.
One trap that many parents fall into is the tendency
to rescue their children too quickly. Of course, there
are plenty of times when we should tell our children
what to do, particularly when safety is involved. But
if your child doesnt understand his homework assignment
or keeps losing things, encourage him to come up with
different ways to fix the situation himself. When he
decides on a plan, tell him, That seems to make
a lot of sense. If it doesnt work out, then we
can think of other possible things to do.
10. Discipline to teach. The true meaning of the word
discipline is to teach. The ultimate goal
is to nurture self-discipline so that your children
will act responsibly even when you arent around.
As with any form of education, do not discipline in
a way that intimidates or humiliates your children.
If you use time-outs, the message to your child should
be, You need to time to calm down. Its
best to add, You can let me know when you feel
calm, because this places the responsibility on
him. For kids older than 7 or those who are particularly
active or stubborn, its better to take away a
privilege and emphasize that they have the ability to
decide to act appropriately. (If you continue
to scream, it wont get you what you want, and
you also wont be able to watch TV tonight. Its
Ideally try to prevent problem behavior in the first
place by figuring out what causes it and doing what
you can to modify the situation. Also, if you catch
your kids doing things right, let them know. Your encouragement
and love are more valuable to your children than stars
Possessing a resilient mindset is an essential quality
for all children. Parents are important in fostering
hope, strength and optimism in their children. These
ten guideposts can and will help your children develop
the skills to cope successfully with the challenges
Adapted from Raising Resilient Children, by Robert Brooks,
Ph.D. and Sam Goldstein, Ph.D. (Contemporary Books,
2001). Reprinted from Parents Magazine, March