Parenting is hard work. Every parent or caregiver hopes that childhood and adolescence could be a carefree time in their kids’ lives. Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality for many children and teens. Kids without resilience are at risk for cognitive, emotional, physical and social issues as they grow up.
Fortunately, building resilience skills to thrive is possible despite these challenges. Resilience, or the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, or stress, can be learned. APA is committed to improving the health and wellbeing of children, youth, and families, and has created a new resource, the Resilience Booster: Parent Tip Tool.
Research shows that parents who get and stay involved with their kids early help to develop secure attachments, healthy emotion regulation, and good interpersonal skills. Whether you’re a new parent or an old pro, the Tip Tool lists small things you can do every day to boost resilience in your children. These tips are based on psychological research that has shown improvements for kids’ development and they are informed by the Oxford Handbook of Poverty and Child Development (Malholmes & King, 2012).
The Tip Tool notes the importance of establishing family routines, talking about emotions, modeling self-control, and sharing problem-solving strategies with your child to develop resilience. It also outlines how community resources, schools, and daycares can support your child’s developing resilience.
Based on the tool, here are 6 vital things you can do to boost resilience in your kids:
- Provide structure
Children need to know what to expect and what is expected of them. Structure provides a sense of security and comfort and can reduce the sense of chaos that stress can bring. Creating structure can be as simple as establishing regular family routines (e.g., meal times, bed times, traditions like family game night). Structure also requires creating rules and expectations and applying them consistently. The effective parent lets his or her child know what is expected of them and what to expect if they don’t follow mom or dad’s rules.
- Talk about emotions
Resilient children have a close, warm relationship with their parent or caregiver. These types of relationships help kids to feel secure particularly in the face of daily stress. Talking about emotions is key to fostering warm relationships. As a parent, they will look to you as a model for all sorts of behavior including emotional regulation. Feel free to express your own feelings, including anger and sadness. Talk about emotions expressed in the world around you. Lastly, talk to your kids about their emotions, both positive and negative. Talking with children about their feeling helps them to recognize and identify what they are feeling and how to regulate their own emotions effectively.
- Model and discuss self-control and problem-solving
In addition to discussing emotions, the next key step is discussing how to appropriately express or release those feelings. You can do this by modeling the behavior for your child, including how to respond to anger. You can also play games that support self-control like musical chairs or red light/green light. You can share ways that you resolve problems, large or small, from making dinner to paying the bills. Encourage your child to think of solutions to problems as well. When they have a question or problem, help them to think through and discuss their own ideas before offering your suggestions right away.
- Build their communication skills
Kids who have a strong understanding and use of language are more likely to have successful interactions. A strong vocabulary and correct language use have been linked to academic success in kids. You can encourage these skills a variety of ways. Talk to your kid about your day and ask them to recount their own day. Make up family stories where each family member gets to add their own plot twist to the story. Reading is fundamental. Read with your child every day if possible and take turns reading to each other. Even singing and dancing together can foster better communication skills.
- Get involved with your neighborhood and community
Your neighborhood will serve as your child’s first encounter with the outside world. You can’t control everything in your neighborhood, but try to build and take advantage of the resources that are available to support resilience. This includes getting to know your neighbors who are an important source of support and social interaction and who can foster a sense of belonging and caring in the neighborhood. Take advantage of community resources like libraries, community centers, boys and girls clubs, faith-based institutions, and museums and parks. These venues offer a variety of learning opportunities, sports and educational programming, as well as entertainment that can positively support your child’s development.
- Work with your child care provider or school
Look for a child care environment that mirrors the safe and nurturing environment that you have created at home. Ideally, you should seek out child care providers who:
- make your children feel safe, protected and valued,
- show sensitivity to their needs and feelings,
- interact regularly with them, and
- play games that foster problem-solving, self-control and discussion of feelings and emotions.
Similarly, as your child gets older, look for a teacher who:
- shows a positive, sensitive and caring attitude toward your kid,
- reinforces good behavior and good performance, and
- doesn’t treat kids differently based on their background or test scores.
Also, look for schools that place an emphasis on attendance and that offer classrooms with mixed ability levels that provide options for student participation beyond just basic math or reading.
Help us spread the word about the Resilience Booster! Here’s how:
- Share it on social media with fellow parents, babysitters, teachers, mental health professionals and community leaders. Hashtag it with #resiliencebooster on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest posts.
- Share your tips and photos of what you use as a #resiliencebooster with your own kids.
- Follow our Mother’s Day Pinterest board for more parenting and resilience resources.
Malhomes, V. & King, R.B. (Eds.) (2012). The Oxford Handbook of Poverty and Child Development. New York: Oxford University Press.