The pandemic has highlighted the importance of resilience in the face of external stressors and unpredictable circumstances. But it’s not something you randomly develop — it’s a trait that parents can nurture in children early on to help them become emotionally healthy adults.
“Resilience is one of the most important factors in mental health. How we view, manage, and recover from stress directly relates to how stress affects us,” says Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, pediatric and integrative mental health expert.
According to her, kids aren’t just born resilient — they become so with the support of their parents and environment:
“Resilience is something that all kids learn through experiences, problem-solving, and watching how their parents cope with stressors. Kids aren’t just born resilient, which means they can learn those skills, and parents have the power to teach kids how to manage stress.”
While there is no such thing as being too late when it comes to increasing resilience, childhood is a pivotal time to do it. And knowing this, as well as how to go about encouraging the development of resilience, can help you raise mentally strong children who will be better equipped to deal with life’s ups and downs.
“Childhood is a pivotal time for developing coping skills that lead to resilience because it is through the exploration of their environment and independent problems solving that kids build a resilient mindset™, which is how kids view, manage and recover from stressors,” says Dr. Capanna-Hodge.
“When children are allowed to problem-solve and face challenges, they learn how to be uncomfortable and build a stress tolerance, which is what is needed for good coping skills and resilience.”
From encouraging autonomy to avoiding the temptation of becoming too involved, here are four things parents who raise highly resilient kids do differently.
1. They encourage autonomy
“Parents who raise children with good coping skills and resilience parent their children in a style that builds healthy autonomy and fosters independent problem-solving skills,” says Dr. Capanna-Hodge.
She suggests a style of parenting called “autonomy-supportive parenting,” which promotes and builds autonomy in children through positive parenting and encourages independent decision-making (in safe, age-appropriate ways). The payoff? Children start feeling more comfortable and capable of managing whatever life throws at them.
For example, you could present your child with a few options within appropriate constraints, explain what each of them entails, and ask her to pick one based on the information presented. It’s not about letting kids do what they want at all times, but involving them in decisions so they can feel more in touch with their inner guidance, commitment, and responsible, according to Advanced Psychology.
2. They help their kids develop coping skills
“Stress-inoculated kids have parents who emphasize coping skills instead of coddling them when something doesn’t go their way,” Dr. Capanna-Hodge.
“When parents emphasize that life isn’t perfect, that there will be times when you will be uncomfortable, kids will adapt and learn to become more self-reliant and self-aware, which are skills associated with higher degrees of confidence, happiness, and overall wellness.”
While it’s difficult to see your children experience setbacks or uncomfortable emotions, it’s critical not to try to immediately fix the situation for them or brush it off, but to allow them to process their emotional state and develop the trust they can withstand and adapt to moments of discomfort.
As a result, kids grow up to become resilient adults who are happier and see stressors in a more positive light — and are less likely to feel the effects of stress, says Dr. Capanna-Hodge.
3. They don’t helicopter their children
According to Dr. Capanna-Hodge, if you want to raise mentally strong kids, it’s super important not to become a helicopter parent:
“Parents of highly resilient kids don’t helicopter their kids and jump in every time something happens that makes their child uncomfortable or upset.”
Instead, they spend time objectively debriefing what went wrong, focusing on solutions and giving their child positive reinforcement for how they coped.
“They spend more time talking to their kids about solutions and reinforcing how well they did in attempting to manage the problem on their own.”
4. They foster self-awareness
Dr. Capanna-Hodge says self-awareness is not only the cornerstone of resilience but also of lifelong mental health and wellness. And parents of resilient kids understand this and find ways to support the development of self-awareness in their children:
“When we become self-aware, our brain and body learn to self-regulate as we connect to our thoughts, sensations, and emotions.”
The beauty of self-awareness is that when you know yourself better, you can feel more confident making decisions as well as saying no to things that don’t feel right. “And having your child be comfortable enough to say no is so important in building that inner confidence that leads to resilience, which enables them to achieve higher levels of success.”
So make sure you’re asking thought-provoking questions that will help your kids turn inwards and gain a deeper understanding of their unique selves.