Resiliency in youth

  • Published
  • By Linda Ambard
  • Hanscom Community Support Coordinator
Resiliency is a trait children inherently have when first born. Babies display varied levels of hardiness right from birth. For example, babies that should thrive sometimes do not, while other times, fragile babies beat the odds and live.

More than that, though, people are also born with an innate disposition. Some exhibit a more flexible and outgoing personality that allows for a natural buffer through life challenges. This natural resiliency varies in all of us, but it is not the whole story.

To begin with, we build resiliency, or pre-coping strategies, by life experiences, practice and trying new techniques.

Resiliency experts suggest that learning resiliency strategies are difficult during big events, or body slams, in life.

Exposure to real world stressors and setbacks begins during childhood. Parents may think that sheltering children from stressors, or swooping in to save children from bad choices, is good parenting. The reality is that children need to be taught through smaller events that life isn't always fair and that there are consequences to behaviors and choices. 

Parents can provide that base for children in many ways. The first step is sending the message that they matter and you believe in them no matter what.

Children need to know that even if they make a mistake, their parents believe in them, but they also need help to understand the error of their way.

When I taught high school English, I found that the most successful students had parents that showed up for conferences, held their children accountable for missing assignments and ensured that projects were consistently completed. 

Some things that I did for my children that are suggestions I pass on today are that I checked their progress once a week so I understood where my children were academically. The second thing was that my children knew that they could get any grade in any given class if they turned in every assignment and did whatever they could extra. 

Another way to foster resiliency in children is to assign chores that must be done because they are a member of the family. Chores are based on the idea that every member of the family must make a meaningful contribution to the house. 

Lastly, children need help learning to deal with disappointments, setbacks and loss. All of us suffer from these at different levels, but the idea is to expose them to minor events before the more major body slams happen.

Children must see how parents deal with minor setbacks versus being sheltered. Many times we want to fix conflicts, setbacks or consequences to the choices children make. For a child to learn to fix conflicts themselves, they need role playing, talking it through and practice. 

For a child to learn about loss, they need help discussing smaller losses like the death of a pet or loss of a friendship.

Giving a child simple choices and encouraging them to use words helps them develop negotiation and relationship flexibility later in life.

Our own resiliency is part of the equation. When we model resiliency in our daily life by our choices, lifestyle and words, children learn to develop their own resiliency.

Children are born with diverse levels of resiliency; however, it is only part of the story. The most notable component of resiliency is in what comes next--exposure, belief in a person and practice is what leads to a resilient adult who can weather the storms of life.