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Resilience: Helping Your Teenager Cope With Challenges


teen boy with arms around Mom and Dad


When young people are resilient, they cope better with difficult situations. They ‘bounce back’ when things go wrong. Young people need resilience to navigate life’s ups and downs, so building resilience is an important part of adolescent development.

What is resilience?

Resilience is the ability to cope with challenges, deal with negative feelings, and “bounce back” after something negative - like a tough situation or difficult time. It’s also the ability to adapt to difficult circumstances that you can’t change, and keep on thriving. When you’re resilient, you can learn from difficult or challenging situations and get stronger.

Your child needs the personal skills and attitudes to help her bounce back from everyday challenges. You can support your child to learn and practice resiliency to deal with everyday challenges such as moving to a new school, losing a game, or making mistakes. Resiliency can also help your child deal with more serious challenges such as adapting to a step-family, the illness or death of a family member or bullying.

How resilient you act and feel can go up and down at different times. You might be better at bouncing back from some challenges, but not others. Some young people face more challenges than others because of learning difficulties or disabilities, or because they struggle with mental health issues such as anxiety. The more challenges young people have, the harder it is for them to be resilient.

All young people can build resilience, and as a parent, you have a big role to play in helping.

Helping your teen build resilience

Resilience for young people is built on a foundation of strong positive relationships with parents. Children can also gain strength from other caring adults that they identify with, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles or teachers who might act as mentors.

Being connected to school helps build resilience, and friends and classmates can also be great sources of support.

You can help your child build the ability to bounce back from difficult situations by giving him the opportunity to learn and practise important values and skills such as:

  • self-respect and other personal values and attitudes
  • social skills
  • helpful and optimistic thinking
  • skills for getting things done

Personal values and attitudes for resilience

Self-esteem is a great building block for resilience. Self-esteem comes from being listened to, treated respectfully, having accomplishments recognized and mistakes acknowledged and accepted. If your child has self-esteem, she believes that she matters and should be treated respectfully by others. She’s also more likely to protect herself by avoiding risky behaviour and situations. Strong self-esteem will also help your child be less vulnerable to bullies and bullying.

Empathy, respect for others, kindness, fairness, honesty and cooperation are also linked to resilience. This includes showing care and concern to people who need support, accepting people’s differences, being friendly and treating others with kindness. If your child shows these attitudes and behaviour towards others, he’s more likely to get a positive response in return.

Social skills 

Social skills are another important building block for resilience. They include the skills needed to make and keep friends, sort out conflict, and cooperate and work well in a team or group.

When your child has good relationships at school and gets involved in community groups, sports teams or arts activities, she has more chances to develop connections and a sense of belonging.

Helpful and optimistic thinking

Resilience is about being realistic, thinking clearly, looking on the bright side, finding the positives, expecting things to go well and moving forward, even when things are bad.

When your child’s upset, you can help him keep things in perspective by focusing on facts and reality. For example, you could try gently asking, “What are you worried will happen? Is it worth getting upset about this? On a scale from 1-10, how bad is this really?” A sense of humour can also help you both keep things in perspective and stay calm.

Your child’s more likely to feel positive if he can see that difficult times are a part of life, that they’ll pass, and that things will get better. You might be able to help your child with this. You can also help your child keep things in perspective and understand that a bad thing in one part of his life – say, a poor exam result – doesn’t have to flow over into all parts.

No matter how upbeat your child is, there’ll be times when he feels anxious, scared or angry. If he’s resilient, he’ll be able to ride out these adolescent ups and downs. Ways to turn low moods into better ones include:

  • doing things you love and enjoy
  • spending time with friends
  • helping someone else
  • talking with friends or a support person
  • exploring activities that help you relax
  • going for a vigorous walk or doing some kind of physical activity
  • going over some good memories by looking through photographs
  • watching a funny TV show or DVD, or reading something funny

Skills for getting things done

Feeling confident, capable and ready to get things done are big parts of resilience. Important skills in this department are goal-setting, planning, being organized and self-disciplined, being prepared to work hard and being resourceful.

Provide your child with opportunities to take on new experiences and master new skills. Allow them to make mistakes – be patient and cheer them on. You can also help your child work out her strengths and limitations. Encourage her to set goals that put her strengths into action, and help her to focus on what she’s good at. If your child’s good at singing, you might suggest she join the school band. If she’s good with young children, you could suggest she might volunteer to coach junior sport.

Supporting your child to take on new or extra responsibilities is a great way to build his confidence and sense of what he can do.

Key messages for building resilience

You can create a positive family environment that fosters resilience by communicating some key messages to your child in your daily life together:

  • Now and then everyone has a difficult or unhappy time. It’s a normal part of life.
  • Things will get better, even though they might sometimes take a bit longer to improve than you’d like.
  • You’ll feel better and have more ideas about what you can do if you talk to someone you trust about what’s worrying or upsetting you.
  • No-one’s perfect. We all make mistakes. We all find out there are some things we can’t do so well.
  • If you can find something positive or funny in a difficult situation, no matter how small, it can help you cope better.
  • Take responsibility for what you did or didn’t do to cause a difficult or unhappy situation. But don’t blame yourself too much.

Tip: Resilience is more than just coping. When you’re resilient, you’re more prepared to seek new experiences and opportunities and take reasonable risks to achieve your goals. Risk-taking might mean some setbacks, but it also creates opportunities for success and greater self-confidence.

Challenges are a normal part of life, and young people have to learn to cope with them by themselves. Let your child have a go at sorting out her own problems and fighting her own battles before you step in. Fumbles and even failures are part of the process.

© Raising Children Network Limited, reproduced with permission.

Resources & Links:

HealthLink BC: Building Resilience
HealthLinkBC: Helping Your Child Build Inner Strength
Here to Help: Resilience: A Guide for Parents and Youth
Here to Help: Resilient Kids: How Parents Can Help

Last Updated: November 30, 2014