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  • Writer's pictureDevin Olivia Barton-Torres

Nurturing Resilience: 7 Ways to Build Emotional Strength in Children

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As parents, one of our greatest aspirations is to raise resilient and emotionally empowered children equipped to navigate life's various challenges. We teach them skills and values to face these moments with confidence, grace, love, and empathy. Resilience is one of the characteristics needed for this to occur. Resilience is the capacity to withstand and recover from life’s challenges and is an essential part of a person’s overall well-being. Resilience can be developed outside the context of childhood trauma and other adverse childhood experiences. When it’s cultivated from a place of love, care, and empathy it becomes an asset children can rely on through the course of their lifetime as opposed to a trauma response they were required to develop without appropriate adult support. There are a variety of effective strategies and activities parents can employ to nurture resilience in their children, helping them develop the emotional strength to face life's ups and downs.

Encourage a Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is foundational for resilience to develop. Growth mindsets teach children that challenges and setbacks are opportunities for growth and learning rather than failures. It encourages them to embrace mistakes, viewing them as stepping stones to success, and emphasizes the importance of effort, perseverance, and resilience in achieving their goals. A growth mindset equips children with an outlook that allows them to face conflict with curiosity rather than defensiveness, which is critical to developing deep connections with others through their lifetime. Growth mindsets teach children to search for the opportunity, pursue experiences they may find intimidating, and to push themselves beyond their comfort zone.

Foster Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, regulate, and respond to your emotions. When you know how to respond to your emotional experience in healthy ways, you’re more equipped to respond effectively to those around you. Emotional intelligence includes identifying and expressing emotions, validating feelings, and providing a safe space for emotional expression. It can also include the ability to create circumstances conducive to the needs of experiencing desired emotions. In “woo woo” terms, the ability to manifest your own emotional experience. Emotional intelligence is critical for safe, secure, and connected relationships because it keeps us in tune with our own needs while simultaneously attuned to the needs of others. People with high emotional intelligence have more rewarding and fulfilling friendships and relationships, a higher level of success in the workplace, and feel a greater sense of purpose in their lives. Parents can promote emotional intelligence by encouraging empathy, modeling their own emotional experiences, and supporting children in developing language and creative expression for their emotional experiences.

People with high emotional intelligence have more rewarding and fulfilling friendships and relationships, a higher level of success in the workplace, and feel a greater sense of purpose in their lives.

Teach Problem-Solving and Decision-Making

Resilient children possess strong problem-solving and decision-making skills. These skills are foundational to children being able to identify and meet their own needs in healthy ways. Involving them in age-appropriate decision-making processes provides them opportunities to break large tasks down into smaller, more manageable actions. Through this process, they build an understanding of how one action leads to another action, eventually ending in the completed task. In time, this will develop to an understanding of how today’s decisions impact their future, and how to prioritize conflicting priorities to support their longer term goals. Encouraging children to brainstorm solutions to challenges they face can be done in formal and informal ways. Parents can model various skills, such as mind-mapping or pro and con lists, or they can integrate a more informal process through ongoing conversation. Daily such as getting dressed, completing homework, or prepping for dinner provide organic opportunities to teach these skills to children. By empowering children to make choices and solve problems at varying levels of difficulty on a regular basis, you are instilling confidence and resilience in their ability to handle various situations.

Promote Healthy Coping Skills

Resilient children learn healthy ways to cope with stress and adversity. Teaching healthy coping skills to children a wide range of ways to effectively regulate themselves in the midst of difficulty. It involves combining multiple skills, including emotional intelligence and decision-making. Children can be presented a range of options and given the freedom to explore them. Encourage them to engage in activities that allow for emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual expression equips them with a well-stocked toolbox of skills. Strategies such as journaling, art, physical movement, or deep breathing are common starting points for children. These strategies can be used to support everything, from regulating a nervous system to expressing abundant emotions in healthy and connected ways.

Provide a Supportive Environment

Creating a supportive environment is crucial for fostering resilience in children. Supportive environments ensure children’s basic needs are met and that parents are equipped with the skills, tools, and resources to raise resilient children. These are environments that foster mutual care, ongoing growth, and abundant opportunities for play and creativity. These are safe spaces where children feel loved, accepted, and encouraged. Parents can cultivate these environments both on their own and with a community. Parents are the first model of what it means to be a community member. Modeling empathy, attentive listening, and care and support are several ways parents can establish social norms. Parents can also model this for other adults in their community, particularly if they’re norms different from the ones the collective community was brought up on.

Encourage Healthy Risk-Taking

Resilience is built through experience and exposure to challenges. Healthy risk-taking provides these opportunities for children in a variety of ways. There can be unstructured risk, such as free play with increasingly reduced supervision as a child master's autonomy and independence. These unstructured activities present organic opportunities that allow children to develop confidence in their decision-making and solution-problem skills in a variety of activities. It may be more structured risks, such as trying out for an athletic team or jazz band. Encourage your children to take healthy risks, step out of their comfort zones, and try new things. Provide opportunities for them to face manageable challenges and celebrate their efforts and achievements, regardless of the outcome. This cultivates a sense of courage, adaptability, and resilience in the face of uncertainty.

Celebrate Progress and Effort

Recognizing and celebrating progress and effort focuses on achievements rather than challenges. Small and large wins can be celebrated to positively reinforce a focus on continuous effort and growth. This also expands children’s opportunities to self-identify what a win means for them. Continuous celebration isn’t as concerned with the outcome as it is with the process and allows for a non-linear approach to growth. Children develop self-reflection, gratitude, goal setting, and dedication more consistently when they’re provided opportunities to experience and practice these skills with their parents and larger community. They also learn to receive acknowledgement and praise in healthy ways, further boosting their sense of mastery and control over their lives.

Beyond Resilience to Empowerment

Building resilience in children is a lifelong journey that requires consistent effort and nurturing. The strategies identified in this blog are only a few of the ways parents can support this ongoing journey. Parents can empower their children to develop emotional strength, adaptability, and confidence in themselves that will permeate every aspect of their lives. Resilience is not about shielding children from difficulties, it’s about equipping them with the skills to face those challenges with a growth mindset, emotional intelligence, and belief in themselves to not only make it through, but to emerge stronger. By fostering resilience, we are helping our children thrive and navigate the complexities of life with resilience and inner fortitude.

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