As a parent, I know I'm not alone in my desire to shield my children from any and all adversity. But as a rational human being who recognizes that both my children and I live in a real world full of potentially hurtful situations, I know they'll be far better served if I help them develop a sense of resilience instead. It's a process, but as you move along you will find signs your kid is already pretty emotionally resilient.
(Aren't our kids always amazing us? And sometimes it's for good things, like displaying signs of emotional resilience and not because they've painted the cat. Again)
This is really the beauty of any aspect of child-rearing, in my experience: you work and work and work to encourage your child to learn how to behave and cope and, for a long time, it feels like you're talking to a brick wall — a brick wall that never sleeps through the night and won't eat anything but Cheerios and raisins. But gradually, over time, you start to see it. You see the behavior you've been modeling reflected back in your child's actions. And it's awesome.
Unfortunately, emotional bubble wrap isn't a thing. Trust me, if it were I would have bought every last roll and swaddled my children for as long as humanly possible. So, the ability to cope with and move past adversity, is the best we've got. While strong evidence shows that there is a biological component to a child's ability to be resilient, according to Harvard University's Center on the Developing Child, environmental factors make a difference and can be encouraged and developed over time, which is great news. Even better news is the fact that, in a lot of instances, they're things we're probably already doing in an attempt to raise a happy, well-adjusted kiddo.
So with all that in mind, here are just a few things that can be signs that your child is, actually, well on their way to being a resilient human being:
They Have A Strong Connection To You & Their Other Caregivers
In the United States, we have a tendency to revere rugged individualism, so it makes sense that we may think of "resilient" individuals as the "strong, silent" types. But according to Harvard's Center on the Developing Child, having at least one stable relationship with a supportive adult is the most common single factor in children who develop resilience. By acting as "a buffer" between the child and the kind of adversity that might cause developmental disruption, and by guiding them through adversity, caregivers provide children with the skills they need to become resilient.
In other words, the lovingly nurtured child is actually going to prove far more resilient than the grizzled cowboy who was raised by wolves. (Though, like, I would watch that movie even if it weren't psychologically accurate.)
A good sense of self-esteem is, in and of itself, a good thing to try to instill in a child, but it has the added benefit of also being a key factor in resilient children. If they are confident in their abilities and sense of self then, according to Healthy Children, a magazine published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, they will believe in their ability to get through a difficult situation.
We hear a lot about the important for empathy for empathy's sake — it's important try to understand another person's feelings and point of view — but empathy has a plethora of unintended side effects, including a better sense of resilience.
Professional counselor Ugo Uche, in Psychology Today writes, "Children and adolescents who understand and practice the concept of empathy don't personalize setbacks. They readily accept when things are not going their way and they are cognizant that there are always other perceptions, different from theirs."
It would seem that, in trying to better understand others and in interpreting behavior less judgmentally, kids are better able to be less judgmental of themselves and move forward from adversity.
They're Eager To Help Or Work With Others
Building resiliency goes hand-in-hand with considering one's contributions and actions to be valuable, according to Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg in an article for HealthyChildren.org. This mindset helps to culture a sense of purpose and motivation, so that even if a child doesn't succeed in their intended goal, the sense that they have something to give to a group effort will prompt them to try again (or in a different way).
They Can Endure Disappointment
It's perfectly natural to get bummed out and cry when things don't go your way... and I'm talking about adults, so it's particularly understandable in children! But it's when disappointment becomes bigger than the initial issue itself, or, worse, when an adverse outcome prevents future effort, that's a problem.
For example, if a child's soccer team doesn't win a game and they get so upset they don't want to play next weekend, there's an issue. If your child is able to take disappointment in stride, however, that's a great sign. But even if they still need help, it's a skill that can be improved with time and effort. Per the American Psychological Association, it might be difficult (developmentally) for your child to take a broader, long-term view of an unfortunate event, but even so, encouraging a positive outlook can help them see "that there is a future beyond the current situation and that the future can be good."
They Demonstrate Self-Control
According to research published in Frontiers in Psychology, "the ability to self-regulate behavior is one of the most important protective factors in relation with resilience." Dr. Kenneth Ginsberg, author of A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens agrees, citing that foresight — realizing they have control over their personal outcomes — not only helps children make better decisions in the first place but helps them realize that they have can "bounce back" from adversity.
They Keep Active
You didn't think we were going to get through an entire article on mental health without bringing up the fact that exercise is good for you, did you? Come on now. Look, it's not a panacea — you can't simply Pilates your way out of depression — but if something is good for your body, it's almost certainly also measurably good for your mind. Research published in Frontiers in Physiology shows that regular exercise can improve emotional resilience, and while this experiment was conducted on healthy adults, children who exercise are more likely to grow into adults who do the same, according to The Guardian.
So if you find your little one going a mile a minute around your living room on a rainy day, don't think of the mess they're making of the cushions: think of all that resilience they're building up.