Six Practical Ways to Build Kids' Resilience

6 Practical Ways to Build Resilience

As we collectively face the potential of another lockdown, it is no surprise that many of us are wondering how exactly we’re going to get through this.  When it seems like every aspect of our daily lives has changed, and the future seems uncertain, adapting to challenges and adversity is key.  We all know somebody who seems to adapt easily, who rolls with the punches, and is generally unflappable. These people are the ones who we view as “resilient” as if it's a personality trait that they uniquely possess.  But resilience is actually a combination of thoughts, behaviours and habitual actions that we can all learn, practice and develop.   

Kids often surprise us with how resilient they are in challenging situations. As parents, our goal is to build on this foundation, and help our kids develop this strong mindset that will help them weather any storm in life.  Don’t be fooled though - this isn’t about motivational quotes and “You can do it” pep talks (that’s part of it), it is daily habits and practical steps that we can all take to build resilience in our kids and ourselves.  

Here are 6 practical way that families can build resilience together:

1. Prioritize relationships and social connections

Even though we may not all be able to hang out in person as we have in the past, connections to family and friends are more important than ever. Because my kids are learning online this year, they are missing out on a lot of the social aspect and supportive network of friends and teachers at school. We are also not able to hang out in person with grandparents and extended family, so we have to be intentional about maintaining relationships. 

Practical ideas:

- Give them a chance to show off what they’er proud of - might be sharing a craft, a Lego masterpiece, or a project they’re working on at school with family via email or on Zoom. 

- Tell them about the adults that are in their ‘fan club’ so they notice that they have a wide support network, by saying “I told Grandma about how hard you worked on your piano practice, and she’s so proud of you”

- Organize virtual play dates for them to participate in an activity like Lego ‘side by side’ with a friend.  

2. Shift their Perspective Positively 

Things are not always going to be rosy and perfect, and validating their feelings is very important. Give them space to feel angry, sad, disappointed about missed opportunities or frustrating challenges. When they’ve had a chance to process their feelings, they will also be more open to shifting their perspective to seeing that setbacks are temporary, and challenges are not insurmountable. Help them to cultivate the belief that they have the ability to face the challenge, and that they can learn and grow from it. 

Practical ideas:

- Let them see how you handle disappointment, and talk them through your thought process.  This helps them normalize these feelings, and also helps them develop an engrained self-talk that is positive and growth mindset focused. You might say - “I had an important presentation at work today, but it didn’t go as I had planned.  It was disappointing, but I learned that I can do X and be better prepared next time”.

- Give opportunities like a growth mindset journal so they can practice shifting perspectives in a guided, engaging format that is low risk before they get to real life situations.

- Talk to them about what they learned in the process of an assignment, challenge or competition, regardless of whether the outcome was good or bad. You can ask “How did you think your game went?  What did you enjoy?  Is there anything you think you might try differently next time?”

- Focus on gratitude, and teaching them to notice even the simplest things that they enjoy or feel lucky to have

3. Take Good Care

Taking good care of ourselves seems so self explanatory, but I’ll admit that I’ve slipped on some of these things during quarantine, particularly good sleep habits. I’m shifting my priorities and reminding myself that self care is like a foundation - it is needed for a house to stand and be stable.  This includes healthy food, good sleep habits, and physical activity.  It also extends past that to emotional self care, like teaching our kids how to recognize when they’re feeling out of sorts, and teaching them how to regulate their emotions.  We talk openly about a variety of coping strategies so they have a variety of options to reach for when needed, and we guide them to recognize when they might want to use them.  

Practical Ideas:

- Make sure their physical needs are met - check if they’re hungry/tired/restless etc.

- Help your kids make a list of what calms them down when they feel angry/sad/lonely

4. Give Opportunities to Help Others

Find age appropriate ways for kids to contribute to their communities or those in need.  Giving them a chance to help someone else builds a sense of purpose and the innate knowledge that they can make a difference.  It also fosters community, and a connection to something larger than themselves.

Practical Ideas:

- Bake treats for neighbours

- Make a contribution to a local children’s hospital - our local hospital has a grassroots initiative where families can put together a care package for kids staying in the Paediatric department

- Collect items for homeless shelters

- Organize friends & family to make donations to a food bank

- Hold a fundraiser for birthdays in lieu of gifts or donate to charities instead of giving out lootbags

5. Ask for Help

Teach them that strength and bravery also means knowing when to ask for help.  Yes, this also means that as parents we need to lead by example on this which can be challenging.  Don’t try to do everything yourself.  Ask for the support you need, and show them no one is expected to shoulder everything alone.  Help them recognize when they can do things on their own, and also when a situation might warrant calling in the support of a trusted adult. It is also important how you handle it when they do ask for help.  Resist the urge to do it for them (also challenging, right?), and try to teach them options to handle it or what process to use to decide what to do.  

Practical ideas:

- “I’d love to help you brainstorm ideas, I’m sure you have lots of great ones”

- try saying “When I’m in a similar situation, I like to try X, Y, Z” 

- “Thanks for coming to me with your problem, let’s talk it through together.”

- Seriously, YOU need to model what it looks like to ask for help, too

6. Make Time for Unstructured Play

Unstructured play gives kids an opportunity to make up games, create their own rules, and spend time in a world that they’ve designed. All of these are ways that kids can flex their creativity muscles. Real talk - sometimes (read: often) at my house, unstructured play leads to disagreements between siblings, but this can be a great opportunity for them to practice their problem solving skills. We just try to listen for the screaming to make sure it isn’t getting out of hand. All kidding aside, problem solving is naturally a creative process so in building our kids creativity, we are also building the muscles needed to bounce back from a setback or solve a challenge that we’re facing.

Practical Ideas:

- this one is the best: sit back, do nothing, and let the creativity and kid-magic unfold.

Sometimes I think we as adults could learn a lot from kids if we acted more like them. Kids go with their instincts and don’t second guess themselves. A lot of these tips are really about teaching them to check in with themselves, recognize their own strength and keep returning to that. Maybe as parents, we’re not actually teaching them something new, we’re just helping them build the confidence to follow their own lead.