“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never, Never, Never, Never give up.” Winston Churchill
The world is full of people who failed before they made it.
Edison kept failing when he tried to make his lightbulb work. It is said that he made up to 1 000 unsuccessful tries before finally succeeding.
Before Abraham Lincoln became president, he had failed in business, failed as a lawyer, failed in his first steps as a politician and failed twice to clinch a senatorial seat.
Walt Disney was once fired for “lack of imagination” and even went bankrupt before founding Disneyland.
Failure, it is said, makes you stronger and wiser. It is a common part of life. But failure can be difficult for children to overcome. The problem is that failure does not necessarily make you stronger. While some people see failure as an opportunity to learn new ways of doing things or even use it to fuel motivation, other people become demoralized and helpless when they face failure. But we all must deal with failure at some point in our lives, and helping your child learn how not to give up can determine whether they see failure as a temporary setback or as something unsurmountable.
Defining resilience in children
Why is it that faced with the same situation, some children thrive but others become withdrawn and give up? Interest in this question gave rise to what is known today as the resilience theory. While there are varying definitions of what the term “resilience” means, researchers now agree that an important aspect of resilience relates to how people react to adverse life experiences: the “vulnerables” and the “invulnerables”, those who thrive, and those who do not in the face of failure. In other words, resilience is what makes people bounce back in the face of significant challenges.
Signs of poor resilience in children
So how do you know whether your child is resilient or not? Below are some of the signs that point to low resilience to difficult situations:
- Dwelling on problems – days or weeks after a difficult event, a child with low resilience skills will still be focusing on that event.
- Overreacting –children with poor resilience are likely to display a mismatch between the emotional intensity and severity of their behavior and the situation at hand.
- Withdrawal – if your child has not yet development resilience skills, they may become withdrawn in the face of failure.
- Negative self-talk – negative self-talk is common among children with low resilience. These children tend to see difficult situations as hopeless and may develop what is commonly referred to as learned helplessness.
- Lack of effort – a child who thinks the situation is “hopeless” is more likely to put in minimal effort, sparking a vicious cycle of failure.
- Reckless behavior can be a sign of resilience issues, and your child can use this behavior to camouflage their difficult emotions.
- Poor problem-solving skills – the more your child struggles with problem-solving, the more likely they are to struggle with being resilient.
Is it possible, then, to make your child more “invulnerable”?
The studies by researchers such as Norman Garmezy and Emmy Werner revealed that some of the children raised in the most adverse situations were able to attain social and academic success.
Werner, for instance, monitored close to 700 children for 32 years. Some of those children were considered “at-risk” for school failure and other adverse life outcomes. However, while two-thirds of the children in this group had serious social, behavioral and psychological problems by the time they turned eighteen, the remaining third were able to attain social and academic success.
Like Garmezy before her, Emmy focused on the factors that helped children at-risk succeed despite the adverse conditions they faced. She found that children experiencing difficult situations were not necessarily doomed to failure.
The good news is that resilience is a skill all children can develop. Here are seven easy ways to boost your child’s resilience.
7 tips to build resilience in your child
- Help your child develop “protective factors”
Several studies have shown that practicing gratitude, kindness and even bravery acts as a “protective factor” against the most challenging situations. It makes it easier to adapt to or overcome negative situations.
Developing your child’s emotional regulation skills has also been found to be an effective protective factor against adverse situations. Research suggests that the more your child is familiar with different emotions and capable of responding to those emotions appropriately, the easier it will be for them to deal with difficult situations. Age-appropriate resources can give you the tools you need to improve your child’s emotional intelligence.
Although further studies are still required to prove the link between adversity and protective factors, strengthening these factors will do your child a world of good in multiple fields.
2) Increasing opportunities for your child to feel good about themselves can increase resilience
The more your child feels good about themselves, the higher the chance of overcoming difficult situations. This means that to build their resilience, it is important to increase the opportunities for positive emotions.
Several studies have shown that there is a relationship between positive emotions and resilience. These emotions help individuals create some form of “reserve” from which they can draw in the face of challenges.
It is therefore important for your child to view themselves as a valued member of their family and of society. An easy way to achieve this is by showing them that they are appreciated by telling them words every kid needs to hear.
Sharing privileged moments every day is also an easy way to help your child feel valued and appreciated. Here is a FREE 30-day challenge to help you get started.
3) Model resilient behavior
Modeling resilient behavior is important if you want to raise a resilient child. This may include behavior such as:
- talking calmly
- demonstrating a positive and proactive way of dealing with difficult situations.
- sharing your difficult emotions openly
4) Let your child know she has what it takes to make it through a tough situation
Young children often doubt their ability to make it through difficult situations. That is why it is important to show them that you believe they are capable of success. You can achieve this by:
- Showing them that you believe in them
- Reassuring them of their ability to make it
- Listening to them actively
- Helping them think of possible solutions instead of focusing on problems
Encouraging your child to participate in household chores is also an easy way to help them see that they are capable of success (capable of successfully completing a task).
5) Strengthen your family’s resilience
The studies by Emmy found that some of the at-risk children who managed to become successful despite their situations were able to do so because of a supportive family environment (parents, relatives, teachers, guardians, etc).
Family resilience refers to your family’s ability to function as a system capable of withstanding difficult situations. This means that it is important to create strong bonds between family members and to make every member feel that they are in their rightful place.
Here are six easy ways to start:
- Start a family tradition that requires the participation of each member
- Practice open communication
- Solve problems collaboratively
- Start a family gratitude routine
- Provide mutual support
- Family members need to know that they can count on each other
6) Teach your child that difficult situations are manageable
A decisive factor in your child’s ability to be resilient is their perception of difficult situations. A child who is resilient perceives difficult situations as challenging but temporary and manageable, and a child who is not views the same situations as permanent and unsurmountable.
Seligman speaks of three dimensions that are related to resilience:
- Personalization refers to blaming ourselves for the bad things that happen, which makes it harder to get over difficult situations.
- Pervasiveness is a form of “overreaction”. In relation to children, it can make your child believe that just because they failed in one area (for example came last in swimming), they are a failure in all areas of their lives.
- Permanence refers to whether one views challenges as temporary or permanent events.
You can boost your child’s resilience by helping them change how they perceive difficult situations. They need to understand that they are not always responsible for the difficult situations they encounter, that one failure does not affect their entire life, and that challenges are temporary situations that can be overcome.
7) Help your child develop a positive explanatory style
How you explain events to yourself ultimately has an impact on your behavior and determines whether you adopt a pessimistic or an optimistic outlook to life. According to Martin Seligman, optimists tend to adopt positive explanatory styles which help them bounce back from life’s stresses and disappointments.
A child who feels helpless to change negative events is likely to have a pessimistic outlook to life, and one who views these events as temporary and non-pervasive displays what Seligman refers to as an optimistic explanatory style.
Help your child analyze their explanatory style and learn to look for the root of problems. Make them speak about their perception of difficult situations aloud.
They need to know that they are responsible for how they react to what happens to them. Focusing on solutions and on the future (“what will you do next time?”) can not only help your child view the situation as temporary, but also help them reflect on how they can react in the future and thus strengthen their coping skills. Help your child overcome learned helplessness. Remember that certain tools can help them develop reflective practice, their capacity for persistence, and their ability to analyze the source of problems.