Helping kids adapt to life’s daily stressors; promoting resiliency

Support children as they learn to “bounce” back after negative life events.

Parents can promote resilience and assist children in adjusting to stresses.
Parents can promote resilience and assist children in adjusting to stresses.

Many experts consider resilience to be an important life skill. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines resilience as “the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress.”

It is an impossible task to try protecting children from all adverse events in their lives. Violence in communities, family separation, loss, abuse and neglect affect more than the adults who are involved. Even children who don’t experience adverse events first hand are exposed to them through the constant media barrage on television, the internet and through social media.

Common stressors for children include bullying behaviors, over-scheduled lives, family issues, adjusting to multiple caregivers and feelings of rejection. All of these, as well as many other stresses, can lead to feelings of loneliness, sadness, vulnerability and frustration.

Caring adults often try to keep children safe by attempting to shield them from stress and trauma, but the reality is that children are affected. Adults can assist children in adjusting to stresses by promoting an environment that protects and buffers them. In the book A Parent's Guide to

Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Your Child Roots and Wings, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, author Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg has identified seven “C”s of resilience that can guide parents to recognize and nurture the abilities and inner resources of their children.

  • Competence - A feeling of knowing that you can handle things in your life. Help children focus on their strengths, empower them to make decisions and know where to look for help when they need it. Assist children in finding ways to control their emotions and solve problems.
  • Confidence - A belief in your own abilities. Parents can focus on the positives in each child while attaching names to their abilities; persistence, fairness and kindness. Recognize your children when they are doing well! Acknowledge specific achievements.
  • Connection - Developing close ties within family and community. Build a true sense of being physically and emotionally secure in your home. Recognize that all emotions are OK; encourage expression within limits. Share family time and foster healthy relationships.
  • Character - The development of a set of values that delineate right from wrong and encourage caring toward others. Teach children how their behavior affects others. Demonstrate the importance of community by getting involved. Discuss human differences and recognize diversity.
  • Contribution - The realization that our input in the world can make it a better place. Model generosity and giving to those who are less fortunate. Seek out opportunities where children can make a contribution. Work with your children in an effort to help others.
  • Coping - Learning to deal with stress. Model coping behaviors consistently. Guide your child toward positive behaviors; discussing risky behaviors and the consequences attached to those behaviors.
  • Control - Understanding that we are in control of outcomes by the decisions we make. Discipline children by teaching, not with control or punishment. Empower children by teaching them that making good decisions will promote competence and confidence.

Parents and caregivers can promote resilience through the environment that they provide, as well as through their words and actions. Positive relationships and environments can support healthy development and provide a sturdy foundation for children to develop resources and coping skills to use when they are faced with life’s stressors and adversity. For more articles on child development, academic success and parenting, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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