"Kids are resilient." It's a phrase you hear all the time from friends and family members. For the most part, they mean well and want to reassure you that your kids will be okay, but do you ever worry about whether this statement is really true? If we say that kids are resilient, does that imply that they're more resilient than adults? And is resiliency a trait that some of us are born with and others aren't? Let's explore what some of the latest research says about resilient children.
According to Bonnie Benard, social worker and author of the book Resiliency: What We Have Learned, we're all born with the ability to bounce back from challenging circumstances. In other words, we all have the capacity to be resilient. However, there are certain traits that make some of us more resilient than others--and these are traits that we can develop in ourselves and in our kids. Take a look at the traits that resilient children--and adults--have in common:
- Social Competence: Having the ability to relate to others socially in a variety of different settings.
- Autonomy: The ability to maintain a sense of your own identity, even in the face of challenging circumstances, negativity, and dysfunction.
- Sense of Purpose: Having goals for yourself and a positive outlook on your ability to transform your hopes into reality.
- Problem Solving Skills: Being able to attack problems head-on rather than being incapacitated by them.
It's important to note, too, that resilient children often learn these skills by observing them in others. So the more you can model resiliency in your own life, the more your children will mimic the ability to bounce back from adversity. But how do you do that? The following steps will help you raise resilient children:
- Introduce your kids to a variety of social settings. Go ahead an bring your kids with you to your single parent support group meetings or the occasional work event. Supervised exposure to different social settings will help them build self-confidence and social competence.
- Set up play dates. Play dates offer another way for your kids to develop social competence. Many times, kids interact differently one-on-one than they do in large groups, so having the opportunity to interact with their peers in different settings and capacities will help them develop self-confidence and social skills.
- Encourage your kids to participate in extra-curricular activities. This serves a dual-purpose. It allows your kids to interact with a whole new set of friends socially, and it also gives them the opportunity to discover what they're good at, what excites them, and--ultimately--what might be connected to their overall sense of purpose in the world.
- Give your kids some space when they need it. It may feel unsettling when your kids ask to be left alone or just want to hang out in their rooms. While you don't want to give them complete freedom at too young an age, it's important to respect their need for privacy and space and realize that independent play time can be an important outlet for your kids. So the next time they want to hole up in their rooms for a bit, let them. Just be sure to follow up at a later time to see if they need to--or are ready to--talk about what they're feeling.
- Encourage your kids to solve their own problems. Resilient children are able to solve problems independently. This doesn't mean that you should expect your kids to solve every problem on their own. Start with basic everyday problems--like finding their sneakers and figuring out what to do when they're "dying of boredom." You may need to walk them through some initial problem solving steps at first, but the more experience they gain, the more they'll be able to work through other issues on their own--and gain self-confidence in the process.
Finally, remember that raising resilient children is a process. Start with the steps outlined here and expand to your own creative ways to help your kids strengthen their social competence, autonomy, sense of purpose, and problem solving skills. Before you know it, they'll be setting the example for you of what it looks like to bounce back when things don't go as planned.
Benard, Bonnie. "Fostering Resilience in Children." Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education. ERIC Digest, Aug. 1995. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://resilnet.uiuc.edu/library/ benard95.html>.
Benard, Bonnie. Resiliency: What We Have Learned. San Francisco : West Ed, 2004. Print.