Building Kids’ Resilience

Resilience is vital for health and well-being. It is the ability to cope with challenges, process 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, including making healthy decisions around substance use. Everyone is born with some aspects of resilience, but other aspects can be learned and practiced.

How do we learn to believe in our own abilities?

The way we view and believe in our abilities is essential for building resilience. This is formed by how you interpret feedback from people in your life and the world around you in four ways:

1. From our own performance

How you feel about the results of your performance on any given task is the most influential source of helping your child believe in their abilities and judgments. 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 about how they did on a given task; this 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 think they learned before giving them your feedback.

2. By observing others

Children learn from parents, teachers and others around them. A good mentor models better ways of doing things, whether it’s learning how to resolve conflict, asking good questions, treating medications with the respect they deserve or learning from mistakes. How to help your child:

  • Model positive behaviour and ask kids what they’ve seen other children doing well.
  • Practice healthy self-reflection by sharing with your kids 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 will weaken how much we believe in ourselves 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 to embrace failure as an important aspect of learning, and that mastery of any task takes practice.
  • Talk to them about what they did 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), your emotional and physical states are clues to how confident you feel about accomplishing the task. How to help your child:

  • Help kids tune in to their bodies by explaining how the physical signs of stress are actually healthy and prepare the body for action, rather than believing that unhealthy feelings are a sign of weakness.
  • 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 and the outcome.

Kids can build resilience and self-esteem by practicing some of the healthy habits above. Resilience includes managing stress, pain and emotions through healthy actions like relaxation, learning and building connections with others. Help your child by modelling, supporting and showing patience. This will help them make good decisions about important things like substance use.

Build Your Own Resilience

Some children are more sensitive than others, and some have challenges or personalities that make it hard to practice resilience-building exercises. If you start feeling worn out, take a moment to practice building your own resilience, and model healthy coping skills and stress reduction. Don’t give up when helping your child 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.

For More Information

For more information about how to talk to your kids about substance use and overdose, see the following parenting articles:


Last Reviewed: December 2016

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