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The Resilient Child

Can your child bounce back from failure?

We all want our children to become resilient: to overcome obstacles, persevere when problems arise, and bounce back from adversity. So why do some of us teach resiliency well and others have a harder time? It’s not an easy question, but certainly there’s enough research (data, experience, insight) to point the way toward raising more resilient children. In this short blog post, I am going to define resiliency and begin to share what it needs to grow mightily in your children.

Resiliency Defined

Merriam-Webster defines resilience as "the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” The ability to bounce back or recover is important, but it's not the whole picture. A resilient child recovers from challenges, but they’ve learned to do more than that. They actually hold a different mindset. A mindset of resiliency that deeply believes: I am not my mistakes, I can try again, things will get better, and I am not alone. (Yes, optimism is positively correlated to resilience).

Rosabeth Moss Kanter wrote in the New York Times, “resilience is the ability to recover from fumbles and outright mistakes and bounce back." This is more of the everyday definition of resilience that every child experiences. Whether it’s failing an exam, not getting picked for a sports team, or forgetting your lines in the school play, the process of childhood includes making mistakes. However, the resilient child has somehow learned to pick him or herself up and keep going. I personally suggest telling stories of resilience, like Michael Jordon getting cut from his high school basketball team. He experienced failure like everyone, but it didn’t define him. It only refined him.

Raising Resiliency

We cannot give our children what we don’t have. So it’s in our “enlightened self-interest” to deepen our set point for resiliency. My book Growing Happy Kids was entirely about laying a foundation of inner confidence or resiliency so that a deeper type of happiness is possible for children. Surprisingly, the feedback I got was: Forget the kids, this is what I need. Creating a practice that builds your own resiliency toward the challenges of life is essential, and you can pass that on to your children.

Some of things that help build resiliency are:

  • Mindset–Oftentimes I find children completely destroyed after failing a test or not making a sports team. They are only outer referenced. If they learn that within them is a power to overcome any obstacle, they can pick themselves up and move forward. It's an important lesson, like the Japanese proverb, “Fall seven times, get up eight.” So instead of saying, “I failed. I am a failure,” a child with growing resilience would say, “I failed. I can try again. I have what it takes.” They can learn to endure disappointment and not get devastated from it.
  • Connect–Children who grow resilience are connected to other people. Boys and girls that feel down on their luck–“bad things always happen to me” said Jacob, one of my 7 year-old clients–aren’t displaying a sense of resilience and aren't well-supported. They're alone most of the time. But children that have authentic relationships and can genuinely talk to someone that is nonjudgmental when mistakes happen can grow resilience. They learn that they aren’t their mistakes and that failure is a necessary step toward success.
  • Spirituality – When I read Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection and her quote, "Spirituality is a component of resilience," I was delighted. I have always personally and professionally witnessed people with regular spiritual practices (yoga, meditation, prayer, nature walks, and so on) to be stronger on the inside than those without. So if you want to grow you or your child’s resilience then add things that enliven his or her spirit or grow a deeper sense of connection and compassion for self and others. One thing I do is a rampage of appreciation like Esther Hicks suggests in the morning. I look for things to be thankful for and teach my kids to do the same.


The great news is that resiliency isn’t a biological gift from great parents. It is something anyone can learn to grow in themselves or their children. I have a paradigm called "The Five Building Blocks of Confidence" in my book Growing Happy Kids that can help. Or you can pick up a wide array of resources that will steer you in a direction of strength and resiliency. The point is that you can consciously plant the seeds of strength and resiliency in your children so they can overcome challenges and courageously give the gifts they were born to give.

© 2014 Maureen Healy

Maureen Healy is an award-winning author, speaker, and professional working with parents and their highly sensitive children. She was a regular guest on Hank Azaria’s “The Fatherhood Project” this year and Yahoo Shine’s “Away We Grow” online. Her books, Growing Happy Kids and The Energetic Keys to Indigo Kids are available wherever books are sold.

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Rosabeth Kanter's article from NY Times (link)

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