To face the stresses of life, children need the ability to bounce back. You can help them.

Resilience is inner strength that helps children cope with and adapt to stressful or negative events, such as the loss of a friend or family member, bullying, illness or the social and academic pressures of school. Resilience comes from a combination of nature and nurture—every child’s unique personality and the environment in which she grows up shapes her ability to handle life’s tough times.

It can be tempting to think of resilience as a skill, but Ilana Luft-Barrett, PhD, a St. Louis Children’s Hospital child psychologist, says it runs deeper than that.

“Resilience is a sense of self-confidence and self-worth,” she says. “That comes from a number of different lifestyle elements that promote a feeling of capability and security. Resilient children feel confident they can handle the challenges that may come their way and have the support of their environment to do so.”

Confidence Builders

Resilience can start to develop as early as toddlerhood, according to Dr. Luft-Barrett. To foster it, she says parents can:

  • Be predictable. Routines give children a sense of security. That can make it easier to weather unexpected hardships.
  • Encourage children to build a wide social network. If a conflict arises with one group of friends, children can turn  to another for support. It’s also important for children to build strong connections with many different family members. That helps build security and healthy values, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • Let children take the lead in problem-solving. It’s OK to offer advice as your children attempt to find solutions to problems, but resist the urge to solve them yourself. Problem-solving teaches children self-reliance. If they need help, however, let them know they can turn to you.
  • Prioritize self-care. Children need to know it’s important for them to look after their health by getting enough sleep, being active, eating healthy food and taking time to do things they enjoy. You can model self-care and encourage your children to follow your lead.
  • Provide opportunities for nonacademic growth. Mastering a skill outside of school, such as building a birdhouse or cooking a meal, boosts children’s confidence in their abilities.
  • Seek meaning from adversity. When difficult times occur, help your children find a lesson or silver lining as a takeaway.

A Life-Long Journey

Building resilience is a process that continues throughout life—and it may not affect all aspects of life equally. That’s OK, says Dr. Luft-Barrett.

“The important thing to remember is that resilience isn’t all or nothing,” she says. “It’s not like children have it or they don’t. They build it over time. Children can have more resilience in certain areas of life and less in others. A child may be quite resilient when it comes to his social life, but less so with academics. What’s important is cultivating a lifestyle that promotes confidence in himself and his ability to handle life’s challenges.”

Call the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Center for Families at 314.454.KIDS (5437) and press “5” to have information about resilience sent to you.