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Building Kids’ Resilience


a group of kids hanging out


Resilience is vital for health and well-being. It gives the ability to cope with challenges, rise above negative feelings, bounce back from bad experiences, and move forward in the face of adversity. Building your child’s resilience can help prepare them for the challenges they will face throughout life.

Everyone is born with some aspects of resilience, but other aspects can be learned and practised. Psychologist Albert Bandura says, “In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life.” He believes parents can prepare children for challenges by teaching them to believe in their ability to face tasks and succeed.  

Four Ways Self-Efficacy is Formed

The way you view and believe in your abilities - self-efficacy - is essential in building resilience. It is formed by how you interpret input from people in your life and the world around you in four ways:

1.  From your own performance

How you feel about the results of your performance on any given task is the most influential source of self-efficacy beliefs. How to help your child:

  • Structure situations that bring success. Avoid placing kids too soon in situations where they are likely to fail, but remember, kids need to experience some failures; if they experience only easy successes, they start to expect quick results and are easily discouraged by failure.
  • Get kids thinking how they did on a given task, could be as simple as helping with the dishes or something more stressful like taking a test at school. Talk to them about what they did well, what kind of effort they put into the task, and what they learned before giving them your feedback.

2.  By observing others

Children learn from parents, teachers and others around them. A good mentor can model a better way of doing something, whether it’s learning how to resolve conflict, ask good questions, refuse a drink, or learn from mistakes. How to help your child:

  • Model positive behaviour and ask kids what they’ve seen other children doing well.
  • Practise healthy self-reflection and share what you like about your own behaviour as well as things you might improve with practice or effort.

3.  From what others say about you

Repeated negative feedback from others can and will weaken self-efficacy even more than positive feedback will strengthen it; lots of praise is not going to make up for lots of criticism and negative judgments. How to help your child:

  • Teach kids that failure is a necessary part of learning and that mastery of any task takes practice.
  • Talk to them about what they did do in order to succeed rather than what they did not do. 

4.  From the signals you get from your body and emotions

Stressful situations can trigger common signs of distress: the shakes, upset stomach, cold hands, sweating more than normal and feelings of anxiety or fright. When you think of a difficult task (like a test, a game, a speech, or a job interview), you assess how confident you feel by the way you interpret your emotional and physical state. How to help your child:

  • Help kids tune in to their bodies by explaining how the physiological signs of stress are actually healthy and prepare the body for action, rather than unhealthy feelings that indicate imminent failure.
  • Teach them how to take slow deep breaths and feel the difference between tension and relaxation, and have them practise a feared task in their imagination while feeling good about themselves.

Build Your Own Resilience

Some children are more sensitive than others, and some have challenges or personalities that make it hard to keep practising self-efficacy-building exercises. If you start feeling worn out, take a moment to practise building your own resilience. Don’t give up when it gets hard or when you fail at some aspect of parenting. Don’t tell yourself you can’t do it or it’ll never get better. Parenting takes patience, practice and perspective - and a lot of love and humour.

Resources & Links:

Building Resilience
Helping Your Child Build Inner Strength
Canadian Mental Health Association: Children and the Stress of Parenting
Sample Conversations that Teach Kids Resilience

Last Updated: March 31, 2015