Tip sheet – promoting resilience in children

Reach IN to face life’s challenges…

Reach OUT to others and opportunities that encourage healthy development.

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Resilience is the ability to “bounce back” from life’s pressures and hard times. It helps us handle stress, overcome childhood disadvantage, recover from trauma and reach out to others and opportunities so we can grow and learn.

“Resilient” people have been shown to have happier relationships and are less prone to depression, more successful in school and jobs and even live healthier and longer lives. According to researchers at the University of Pennsyvania, there are several critical abilities that are linked with resilience and should therefore be promoted in children and adults alike. The various critical abilities are described below and are accompanied by tips for promoting them in children.

Emotional Regulation

Being in charge of our emotions enough to stay calm under pressure in order to express our emotions in ways that will help rather than hurt our situation.

Tip #1: If a child is angry, the adult must set firm and loving limits on the behaviour, for example, you could say, “It’s okay to be mad but it’s not okay to hurt yourself of someone else”. Instead provide them with other options as an outlet for their angry emotions such as drawing their “mad” feelings on paper in order to express their emotions safely and help to calm down.

Tip #2: For both children and adults, one simple way to take charge if your emotions is by taking 3 deep breaths. You can ask a small child to imagine blowing up balloons, filling their bellies with air then blowing out into the balloons.

Impulse Control

The ability to stop and choose whether to act on the desire to take action, as well as the ability to delay gratification and persevere through difficulties. Controlling our impulses helps us finish what we set out to do and plan for the future.

Tip #3: We can help young children develop impulse control by modelling it ourselves and acknowledging their achievements when they control their impulses.  For example, we can say, “You did it! It was really hard to wait, but you did it!”

Causal Analysis

The ability to analyse a problem and accurately decide what its causes are. This is because it has been found that what we think about stressful events or problems affects how we feel about them and therefore affects what we actually do about them. Resilient thinking allows us to be flexible – to step back and assess the problems and to decide how to handle it best. For example; “I can’t do anything right” is replaced with “I’ll get better at this once I have more experience.”

Tip #4: To help children think more accurately and flexibly about whether a situation is permanent or temporary, you can challenge their initial assessment of the situation.

Example 1: “I never get to be first in line” can be changed by first acknowledging the child’s feeling and then offering a gentle reminder like, or “We all get a chance to be first in line. Your turn will come too.”

Example 2: “I will never be able to do…” can be changed by reminding the child of past achievements: “You seem frustrated right now, but remember, you thought you would never be able to tie your shoe laces without my help and now you can do it all by yourself.”

Realistic Optimism

The ability to maintain hope for a bright future. This kind of optimism is not about seeing only the positive things in life and turning a blind eye to negative events, it’s about seeing things as they are and believing that we can make the best out of a situation. This is also the ability to work toward positive outcomes with the knowledge that they don’t happen automatically, but are achieved through effort, problem solving and planning.

Tip #5: To help children think about a situation with realistic optimism and consider the alternative options available, teach them to ask themselves, “What else can happen now?” or “How else could I think about this situation?”

Empathy

Empathy is often described as understanding what it is like to walk in another person’s shoes. It’s the ability to understand the feelings and needs of another person.

Tip #6: Developing empathy in children is done best when they themselves are understood and supported by those around them. This can also be broadened to recognising others’ feelings: “Jenny’s face looks sad, I wonder if she misses playing with her friend today,”

Self-Efficacy

This is the feeling of making a difference or having an impact in the world. It is the belief that what we do matters. People who possess self-efficacy believe that they have what it takes to tackle most of the problems they face and handle stress, this also reflects their ability to persevere.

Tip #7: This is developed through actual experience, we can help children by providing them choices that allow them to influence decisions that affect them. For example: “It’s cold outside. Do you want to wear your hat or pull up your hood?” This provides the child a sense of control over what they do but also provides an opportunity to succeed, which increases confidence.

Reaching Out

The ability to take on new opportunities that life presents and see mistakes as learning opportunities, this allows people to take risks and try new things.

Tip #8: We can help children want to try new things by pointing out “No one is perfect” and “Everyone makes mistakes. It is a part of how we learn.”

Tip #9: Adults also model making mistakes and fixing them: “Remember when I forgot to read the story yesterday? Today I’m going to read two stories.”

Tip #10: We can also remind children of what they have already accomplished, so that they can see that they are indeed growing and learning everyday: “When you were a baby, you couldn’t walk. And look at you now! You run so fast, I can hardly keep up with you.”

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