Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids

How to raise self-disciplined, connected, happy humans

The Secret of Raising a Resilient Child

Helping your child deal successfully with failure.

"Where does resilience come from?....It comes from knowing that you never have to be alone….If you feel connected, you will always be able to deal with adversity. The skills we need to deal with adversity begin with a feeling of I can handle this. It is a feeling of No matter what happens, I can find a solution; a feeling of I have dealt with hard times and come out fine before; a feeling of Even when I feel lost, I always have somewhere to turn.” – Dr. Edward Hallowell

Life is full of hard knocks. What makes some people get up the next morning determined to try again, while others give up? Resilience.

There's a common misconception that children develop resilience by encountering failure. That's a myth. Children develop resilience by dealing successfully with failure. When children have the internal and external supports to get up and try again, they learn they can overcome adversity. When a child doesn't have that internal and external support, all he learns from failing is that he's the kind of person who fails.

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And just what are those internal and external supports that help your child turn failure into the confidence that no matter what happens, she can handle it?

1. Your empathy. The security of knowing that someone is watching out for him is what allows a child to explore, to risk bumps, disappointment and hurt feelings, and to come out the other side. Empathize when it's hard. Knowing someone cares, understands, and is there to help him pick up the pieces is the foundation of resilience.

2. The experience of solving problems. Manage your own anxiety so you don't make a habit of rescuing your child. Instead, when she gets into a jam, support her in brainstorming possible solutions. If you lecture, teach or solve the problem for her, you're teaching her that she can't solve things herself. Your goal isn't just to solve the problem, but to help your child feel more capable by having the experience of handling a challenge.

3. Emotional regulation. When kids feel overwhelmed by their emotions, they crumble. By contrast, kids who have better emotional regulation can tolerate the frustration of practicing, or the disappointment of losing. They're more likely to apply themselves, and to overcome setbacks. So accept your child's emotions, and honor them. She learns from experience that she can tolerate any emotion she feels and come out the other end intact, and the sun will come up the next day.

4. The experience of mastery. Developing grit--that quality of pushing through obstacles as we pursue something about which we're passionate--depends on the child working hard to accomplish her own goals, whether that's mastering a jump shot, short story, recipe or camping trip. Make sure your child gets plenty of time to initiate and pursue her own passions--not always easy in this age of homework and screentime.

You can't protect your child from the rain that falls in every life. What you can do is make sure that he knows how to find an umbrella, and has the confidence to make it through the storm. Now's the time to start practicing. Some day, your child will look back and remember that he's dealt with hard times before, and he came out fine. It's your unwavering love that will get him there.

Laura Markham, Ph.D., is the author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How To Stop Yelling and Start Connecting.

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