BUILDING RESILIENCE IN CHILDREN AND TEENS


Resilience is the ability to bounce back. It is what allows individuals to rise above times of extreme difficulty. How do we endow our children and teens with the ability to deal with life’s challenges and bounce back in the face of adversity? The challenges that our children face today are many—from cyber bullying to trauma. How do we help our children stretch and grow and rise to the occasion when they are faced with all the ordeals of life?

Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, FAAP, in collaboration with Martha M. Jablow, has written an excellent book entitled Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings (American Academy of Pediatrics, Third Edition, 2015). This is an important book that his highly recommended to parents.

There are two central principles that are at the root of resilience. First, parents must have unconditional love for their children. Unconditional love creates a climate of love, nurturance and security and allows the child to grow with confidence. The second important factor is high expectations for effort, morality and character. A child must feel nurtured but also challenged so that he or she can learn to rise to the occasion and learn valuable life lessons. Dr. Ginsburg believes strongly that a child will not learn from life’s lessons if he or she is protected from experiencing them.

Parenting should never be at an extreme; Ginsburg eschews both the helicopter parent and the more permissive parent. He believes the best type of parenting is balanced parenting—the ability to give a sense of security and protection, while at the same time allowing children to make mistakes and learn from their experiences.

Says Ginsburg: “I like to think of myself as a lighthouse parent, you know reliably there, totally trustworthy, making sure he doesn’t crash against the rocks, but committed to letting him learn to ride the waves.”

Parents need to instill in their children the ability to be compassionate, generous and creative. A child becomes resilient because they have been raised in an environment of safety that allows them to make mistakes and learn from the consequences of their mistakes. Resilient children grow when they are raised by parents who love them unconditionally, but who also encourage them to stumble and recover, master their frustration, and come to terms with their limitations. Only then will they be prepared to be successful in life.

The 7 Cs: The Essential Building Blocks of Resilience
Competence: Children develop competence when they are given the opportunity to develop important skills. We undermine competence when we don't allow young people to recover themselves after a fall. Children need to learn to trust their judgments, make responsible choices, and face difficult situations.

Confidence: Confidence is built in young people when they learn to think outside the box, navigate the world and recover from challenges. When a child is truly confident, he or she has a solid belief in his or her own abilities. Confidence is rooted in competence. Children gain confidence by demonstrating their competence in real situations.

Although telling your children that they are special and loved is important, true confidence will result if they experience competence within a warm, secure and protected family environment. When parents support their children to learn from their mistakes, rise up after a fall and encourage them to try new ventures and trust their abilities to make sound choices, they are helping them gain confidence and competence.

Connection: When you have a strong sense of connection to family, friends, people in school and those in the community you develop a sense of security, which produces strong values and prevents the child from seeking destructive alternatives. Although a secure and loving family is the mainstay in any child’s life, connections to friends, community, teachers, and religious or athletic groups can also increase a young person’s sense of belonging to a wider world and feeling safe within it. It also teaches children to develop ideas in a flexible and creative way.

Character: As young people mature they need to develop a clear sense of right and wrong and a commitment to integrity. This provides children with the ability to make wise choices, contribute to the world, and become stable adults. Children with a well-developed character possess a strong sense of self, an important factor that contributes to strong feelings of self-worth, self-esteem and confidence. When children develop a strong positive character they are more comfortable maintaining their own values and are better able to express a caring and helpful approach toward others.

Contribution: As children and teens develop, it is important for them to feel that their existence makes a difference. It is very empowering when young people contribute to the well‐being of others. When children receive gratitude rather than criticism, they learn that contributing feels good, and will naturally want to contribute some more. It is a powerful lesson when children realize that the world is a better place because they are in it.

Children who understand the importance of personal contribution gain a sense of purpose that can motivate them. This in turn leads to the enrichment of their own competence, character, and sense of connection. This is specifically noteworthy in the teen years. Teens who contribute to their communities or within their school and receive acknowledgement for their deeds become surrounded by a sense of appreciation from others and the knowledge that they have made a difference. This is so much better than the disapproval, alienation or low expectations that many teens experience through their developing years

Coping: Children and teens who possess a variety of healthy coping strategies will be less likely to turn to dangerous alternatives when faced with stressful life situations. Sometimes children will engage in unhealthy behaviors as way to cope with emotional pain, stress or shame. Parents need to help children explore their experience when they behave negatively and not condemn or criticize them. Parents who effectively role model healthy problem solving and coping strategies for their children, will help children develop more effective ways to deal with the stress of life’s challenges. In this way, children and teens develop a healthy toolbox of positive and adaptive coping strategies.

Control: It is a very empowering experience when children and teens learn that they have control over the outcomes of their decisions and actions. When children and teens feel more in control, they feel more confident in their ability to bounce back when things don’t work out. If parents are constantly trying to maintain control and do not give their children the ability to make their own decisions, when appropriate, children will never learn to make decisions and maintain inner control on their own.

A child who feels that they have no say over their lives--that they are a victim of life rather than an important participant-- will have a more difficult time taking control of their life. They become more passive, pessimistic, frustrated or depressed. Control becomes externalized and not internalized. Resilient children and teens are the ones who are able to develop a sense of inner control and know that they are their own agents of their experience. Also, a young person who understands that privilege and respect are earned through acting responsibly will also learn that their actions make a difference and will thus be able to learn to make wise choices.

Finally, children must also learn that at times things will occur in their lives that they have no control over, i.e., when parents are getting divorced. Children and teens need to understand and accept that they are not responsible for many of the unfortunate circumstances in their lives. They can control certain things in their lives, but not all.

In general, healthy balanced parenting will go a long way in raising healthy, balanced resilient children. The role of parents is to love unconditionally but to role model and teach many important life lessons that incorporate the 7 C’s and promote growth in character combined with healthy resilient strategies.