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Bouncing Back from Adversity: Tips on Building Resilience in Your Child

March 1, 2013
Children and Teens
“Staff Tips and Strategies” and a drawing of a family in green

Stanley Fagen, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist

As they grow up, children must discover the difficult reality that each of us will go through some upsetting times with others. In school, on the playground, at camp or in after school activities, children will inevitably experience embarrassment, disappointment and hurt. These emotions might be sparked by feeling excluded by other children, losing at a competitive game, receiving criticism for being different or feeling incapable in front a group. In helping children through these painful experiences, however, parents can teach valuable lifelong lessons about resilience in adversity.

One way to encourage resilience in your child is to reduce vulnerability to rejection from the start. Point out to your child that all children have the right to make choices just as he or she does. This means that sometimes your child might not get picked for the team, chosen for a role in the play, or invited to a neighbor’s birthday party. Help your child understand that being teased or criticized is a part of life, and give an example of how it has happened to you. You may increase readiness for adversity by reading books or watching movies that show characters dealing positively with difficult experiences. Discuss with your child how these characters can be models for handling real-life challenges.

Keys to Coping

When your child does face adversity, the following steps give them important ways to regain calm and confidence.

  • Take some time out. The child will need some time to settle down away from the group. Parents can help the child relax by comforting, hugging, or urging the child to take some deep breaths.
  • Show empathy for hurt feelings. Let your child know you understand the sadness, anger or frustration. Try a simple statement such as “I know you are really upset by what happened, and it is OK to feel that.”
  • Express optimism about the future. Speak hopefully about trying again another time, whether sooner or later. Show your support with comments such as “this didn’t work out so well, but the next time could be a lot better” or “you’re getting better each time you try this.”
  • Encourage a return to the challenging situation when your child is ready. If the child seems reasonably calm, ask if he or she is ready to return or needs more time. Let go of the activity if the child clearly does not want to return.
  • Rekindle strengths and interests after an upset or meltdown. Move on to something the child enjoys. Being active and positive will help lessen the sting of adversity.
  • Resist any urge to pity or overprotect your child. After an initial show of concern, guide your child toward gaining strength for coping and moving forward.
  • Later on, prepare your child for the next time. At another time when your child seems composed, do some problem-solving to anticipate the future. Review what happened that was difficult. Then identify and even practice constructive ways to respond if it happens again.

Disappointment and frustration are inevitable in the lives of children and adults, but fostering resilience can enable them to minimize setbacks and gain emotional strength.

JSSA assists parents, children and families as they cope with many large and small challenges in life.