All children are capable of extraordinary things. There is no happiness gene or success gene. The potential for happiness and greatness lies in all children, and will mean different things to each person. We can't change that our children will face challenges in life but we can give them the skills so these challenges are never able to break them. We can build their resilience.
Resilience is being able to bounce back from stress, challenge, tragedy, trauma or adversity. When children are resilient, they are braver, more curious, more adaptable, and more able to extend their reach into the world. Resilience is something that can be nurtured in all of us and strengthened at any age.
Building children into healthy, thriving adults isn't about clearing adversity out of their way. A little bit of stress helps them to develop the skills they need to flourish. Research shows that in the context of a loving relationship with a caring adult, children have the opportunity to develop vital coping skills. This social support is associated with higher positive emotions, a sense of personal control and predictability, self-esteem, motivation, optimism, a resilience.
Optimism has been found to be one of the key characteristics of resilient people. If you have a child who tends to look at the glass as being half empty, show them a different view. This doesn't mean invalidating how they feel. Acknowledge their view of the world, and introduce them to a different one. Spend time daily acknowledging the (non-material) big and small things that you and your children are grateful for.
The ability to reframe challenges in ways that feel less threatening is linked to resilience. In times of difficulty or disappointment, reframing a situation will help them to focus on what they have, rather than what they've lost. To build this skill, acknowledge their disappointment, then gently steer them away from looking at what the problem has cost them, towards the opportunities it can bring.
Kids can be fairly black and white about things so when they are faced with something difficult, the choices can seem stark -- face it head on or avoid it at all costs. But there is a third option, and that is to move gradually towards it, while feeling supported and with a certain amount of control.
Exposure to stressors and challenges that they can manage during childhood will help to ensure that children are more able to deal with stress during adulthood. Research has found that children who have a growth mindset - the belief that people have the potential to change report less stress and anxiety, better feelings about themselves in response to social exclusion, and better physical health. It can be heartbreaking to watch our children when they struggle or miss out on something they want. But - they'll be okay. However long it takes, they'll be okay.
Unfortunately, we all will experience emotional pain, setback, grief and sadness in our lives. Resilience isn't about never falling down. It's about getting back up again. The key for our children is to learn to respect those feelings, but not let them take charge and steer their life's outlook and future behavior.
Andy Blum, LCSW-S
Levine Academy Counselors