This post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.
Resilience is an essential component of good mental health. The ability to weather and recover from life’s challenges means that your kids have one of the best possible tools for protecting their overall well-being and mental health over their lifetimes. And while we tend to idealize childhood as a magical time of no worries, that simply isn’t true. The earlier we teach our kids to deal with everything from disappointment to trauma, the healthier they’ll be.
If you’re wondering how to make sure your kids develop this essential quality, we have everything you need. Keep reading.
According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is the ability to healthfully adapt to trauma, adversity and stress – which all children experience at different levels, regardless of their circumstances. But the good news is that resilience isn’t an inherent quality – instead, it’s something that can be taught, and our children can develop the quality of resilience over time.
Here are some research-backed ways to encourage resilience in your own children:
One of the key obstacles to resilience is the idea that we must handle adversity on our own. Teaching your kids early the value of connection with others can help them build a stable of friends and allies whose support they can tap into when they need help. Combining a strong network of supporters with the comfort and confidence to reach out to them when they need help is a powerful step toward building lifelong resilience and good mental health in your kids.
Plus – strong community connections also often stem from communities of faith. Exposing children to faith, hope and a strong sense of tradition also helps encourage resilience.
In addition to a strong network of friends, your child may at times benefit from the counsel of a trusted therapist. Talk therapy, including online therapy, can be an effective tool in your child’s toolbox when it comes to increasing resilience and weathering life’s struggles in a healthy way.
According to Harvard University, the single most powerful predictor of a child’s developing resilience is a caring, supportive relationship with a parent, caregiver or other committed adult. You can be that caring adult – and when you can’t, you can provide access to other caring adults in your child’s life.
A big obstacle to resilience is the feeling of helplessness – and a powerful antidote to helplessness is offering help to others. It’s important to show your children, from a young age, that helping others not only provides assistance with acute needs, but it also strengthens overall health and well-being by giving children an opportunity to provide a solution to a problem, or to be part of an effort larger than themselves.
According to Duke University, the act of helping others can be helpful because of its tie to self-determination theory – the idea that we all have a desire to be autonomous, competent and connected to others. Helping someone else gives us that feeling, and doing so reduces feeling of helplessness and builds the mental muscle associated with resilience.
One of our most powerful tools for good mental health is identifying, naming and healthfully processing our emotions. Work with you children to do just that – talk about their feelings and thoughts so they can separate healthy patterns from unhealthy or self-destructive ones. For example, if your child is experiencing symptoms of anxiety, ask them to give advice to a friend experiencing the same situation. Adding a layer of objectivity can help children more clearly understand when a thought process is unhealthy. This is another area where talk therapy may be productive.
It’s also good practice to encourage your child to remember a situation in which they have successfully navigated a similar stressful situation. Remind them that previous hardships have helped them build resilience “muscle” that will serve them well as they face any current challenge. Talk through what they learned from those previous situations and how those lessons might help them now. Reflecting on their prior success can help children build confidence that they can successfully get to the other side of challenging situations. And every time they do, they get that much stronger – and they build more trust in their own abilities to solve problems.
It’s important to be intentional with your children about the importance of mental health – along with the fact that good mental health doesn’t happen by accident. It takes intentional effort, including a commitment to self-care. Talk to your kids about the fact that self-care isn’t a luxury. It’s essential for a healthy sense of well-being. Encourage them to recognize the environmental triggers around them and to identify healthy practices and activities that support their mental health. Make sure they know that it’s OK to practice self-care – in fact, it’s essential for their overall health and well-being.
Ultimately, the most important thing you can do to teach your children resilience is model it yourself. That means taking care of your own mental health and developing the skills and tools you need to be resilient, no matter your life experiences. If you’re practicing self-care, processing your feelings in a healthy way, connecting and helping others, that goes a long way toward showing your children what it looks like to take care of your mental health and cultivate resilience. Stress is a natural part of anyone’s life – you can’t avoid it for yourself, and you can’t protect your children from it, but you can model healthy ways to process and move through it.
Resilience isn’t something we’re necessarily born with – but it is something that can be taught, practiced and refined over time. As with many aspects of mental health, the practices that encourage resilience are highly personal, so you may need to experiment with some practices before you find the mix that’s right for you – and your child may need to do the same. Your journey may not be the same as theirs, and that’s perfectly healthy. As long as you’re openly communicating and working to set a positive example, you’re helping set your child up for good mental health well into adulthood.
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