How can I help my kids grow into resilient adults?

Article at a Glance:

  • Teaching children and teens to evaluate situations will help alleviate stress and build resilience.
  • Being proactive and discussing potential sources of anxiety can help in future decision making. 
  • Resilience is a skill, and like any skill, it can be strengthened through practice.

In this series, we’ll be looking at ways to help teach children and teens resilience. It can be difficult to process disappointment, trauma, stress, anxiety, or depression and all of the negative feelings that can come with it. Resiliency will help children and teens deal with these negative feelings in a healthy and appropriate manner. Resilience is a skill, and like any skill, it can be strengthened through practice. 

Learning to Let It Go

Just like adults, children and teens can worry about things that are beyond their control. This ends up accomplishing nothing but causing anxiety, and sometimes even physical illness. Teaching children and teens to evaluate situations will help alleviate the stress and give them concrete ideas for taking appropriate action. Here is a simple strategy for evaluating situations.

Decide: Can I do anything about it?

Yes, I can: If the situation is one that can be acted on immediately, come up with possible actions with your child that can be used in the situation. Help them evaluate the pros and cons of each situation, then choose an action based on those factors. Acting will help give them regain a sense of control and will help to reduce anxiety. For example, during the pandemic, wearing a mask, washing your hands, and social distancing are all things that you can do.

Yes, but not yet: If the situation is one that can be acted on, but the action needs to be delayed for any reason, go through the previous steps to identify possible solutions and choose one based on the potential outcome. However, explain to them that worrying about the action before they can take it will have no effect on the outcome. Recognize that being told, “don’t’ worry” is ineffectual. Instead, give your child some ideas of how they can focus their attention elsewhere until it’s time to take the decided action. 

  • Journaling about their thoughts and intended solution can be one way to “close the book” on worrisome thoughts.
  • Very young children might benefit from drawing how they plan to resolve the problem.
  • Distracting themselves with work, planning a project, playing a game, or even reading a good book are all ways to get their minds off problems they’ve already worked through. 

Learning to let go of stressors takes a lot of practice, so be patient if your children and teens don’t appear to be using your strategies. The more they practice, the easier it will become. Try modeling the strategy for them in your own decision-making. With Covid-19, that may be recognizing you will be able to get the vaccine but have to wait for availability.

No, I can’t: If the situation is outside their control, then worrying about the situation will have no effect on the outcome. This is the hardest part to practice, so be patient. Again, model this for your children and teens whenever it is appropriate to do so. 

Be aware of the potential sources of anxiety for your children and teens, whether it’s school, overhearing distressing conversations, or even watching the news. Be proactive and bring up potential sources of anxiety so you can go through the above steps and practice different strategies. Make up scenarios to practice with so that there is no risk to the decision-making. 

Lastly, make sure to acknowledge the attempt even if it’s unsuccessful. Letting go of stressors is a life skill, and it may take a lifetime to master. Encourage them to keep trying. Have regular conversations about how they feel about using this strategy, and don’t be afraid to make modifications based on the individual needs of the child or teen. During the global pandemic, this could be recognizing you can’t control the virus and its spread.

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