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Conversations That Teach Resilience: Kids


mom hugging daughter on couch


Resilience helps your child develop the ability to bounce back from difficult situations and prepares them for challenges they will face in life, like the decision to take part in underage drinking. Through evaluation, feedback and reflection, you can structure conversations to support resilience in your child. These are some conversations that build kids’ resilience.

Help your kids develop self-efficacy (how we view and believe in our abilities) by structuring situations for them in ways that bring success. Avoid placing them in situations too soon where they are likely to fail often. Though, kids do need to experience some failures too. If they experience only easy successes, they may start to expect quick results and become easily discouraged by failure.

Get Kids to Evaluate Their Own Performance

Ask kids to evaluate their own performance before giving them feedback. Kids can practise identifying what they did well, what kind of effort they put into a task, and what they learned. Example:

Parent: How was school today?

Child: Okay, I guess. We’re doing track in gym class. Tryouts for the track meet are next week.

Parent: What events are you going to try out for?

Child: I don’t know. I like running but I don’t think I’m very fast.

Parent: Maybe you’d feel more sure of yourself in an event that doesn’t involve running fast.

Child: I could try, I guess. I’m good at throwing so I was thinking I could try for ball throw or shot put.

Parent: Sounds like you’ve got a few options and can try out for things you know you’re good at and things you’d like to be better at.

Child: Maybe I’ll try out for lots of things and see how it goes…

Share What You’ve Learned about Your Performance

Reinforce positive modelling, not only through your own behaviour, but by asking kids what they observed another child doing well. Also practice healthy self-reflection and share with kids what you liked about your own behaviour and what you might improve with practice or effort. Example:

Parent: How’d the track meet tryout go?

Child: I made it into the 400 metre race and shot put! And, I’m doing long jump too. I don’t know how that happened since I stepped on the line a lot.

Parent: How’d your friends do?

Child: Great! Lisa’s in long jump too. She’s really good at it.

Parent: What do you think makes her able to jump so far?

Child: Well, it might be because she uses her arms and kind of claws at the air.

Parent: I used to like long jump too. And, like you, I used to step on the line too. I had to practise a lot to get really good at it though. My mom set up a long jump station in our backyard and my friends and I would challenge each other.

Child: Maybe we could do that in our yard…

Tell Them What They Can Do, Not What They Didn’t Do

Failure is a necessary part of learning, and mastering any difficult task takes repeated, concentrated practice. When giving feedback on areas that need to be addressed, tell your child what they can do in order to succeed at the task rather than what they did not do - practise measuring success in terms of self improvement rather than by triumphs over others. Example:

Parent: Wow, are those ribbons from the track meet? Come tell me how it went today.

Child: These are just participation ribbons. I didn’t win anything.

Parent: I bet it was still fun though. Which event did you enjoy most?

Child: Definitely 400 meters. I was 8th so I was close to placing in the top six and getting a ribbon. But I think it made me too tired for long jump!

Parent: Sounds like you worked really hard out there today! Maybe you just need to practise more before the next tryouts and track meet.

Child: I guess.

Parent: Now that you know what you like, you can focus on what you need to do to get even better at it.

Child: Hey, maybe I should start practising now!

Teach Kids How to Calm Themselves When Stressed

Help kids tune into their bodies and explain how the physiological signs of stress are actually healthy mechanisms that get our bodies ready for action rather than signs of imminent failure. Teach them how to take slow deep breaths and feel the difference between tension and relaxation, and have them practise the feared task in their imagination while feeling good about themselves. Example:

Child: I’m getting really nervous about the track meet today. So many people will be there watching us!

Parent: That’s your body telling you to get prepared for action. It’s good to be aware that your body talks to you.

Child: But what if “getting prepared for action” wears you out before you even start running?

Parent: Well, you could try calming yourself by taking slow, deep breaths. Let’s try it together right now….Can you feel the tension leaving your body?... Okay, now imagine yourself running the 400 meter race and winning! That’s the kind of thing famous athletes say they do to de-stress and be at their best during important competitions.

Resources & Links:

Stress Management: Helping Your Child With Stress
Helping Your Child Build Inner Strength
Canadian Mental Health Association: Children and Self-Esteem

Last Updated: March 31, 2015