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How to Build Resilience in Children and Teens

How to Build Resilience in Children and Teens

‘The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from stress, challenge, tragedy, trauma or adversity. Some people fall apart under difficult circumstances while others adapt. So, what is the emotional quality that allows some people to thrive when faced with adversity while others greatly suffer? It is the quality of resilience that aids in raising a happy confident successful child.

When children are resilient, they tend to be braver, more curious, more adaptable, and able to actively participate in life. So here we are going to look at some ways to encourage resilience in kids and teens. How we can help to build this emotional muscle and teach kids to learn how to bounce back, find new strategies and persevere despite difficult circumstances.

The earlier we teach kids how to be resilient the better. While kids’ brains and personalities are still developing, we can teach them skills that help them be resilient when facing difficulties that will help them throughout their lives.

Foundations For Developing Resilience In Kids And Teens


Foundations for developing resilience in kids and teens
Developing Resilience In Kids And Teens

It’s imperative to understand that kids develop their inner voice from what adults say to them as they’re growing up, so our words are a key influence in developing how they feel about themselves. Their early understanding of themselves comes from how people treat them and talk to them.  Kids are mostly egocentric. This means that children often internally blame themselves when things don’t go as expected, they think it’s something they did wrong. So how we speak to the children and teenagers in our lives is of the highest importance when it comes to helping them develop the skills they need to be resilient.

‘By providing a supportive environment with open communication and effective parenting practices, children are given a huge head start in terms of building resilience’ (Newman & Blackburn, 2002). Research suggests that children’s ability to be more resilient is supported by an ‘authoritative parenting style, which is warm and supportive; yet also appropriately demanding in terms of expectations’ (Baumrind, 1991). In other words, authoritative parents provide consistent limits in a loving way.

As the family is such an important support system if a supportive, loving environment is provided where children and teens feel safe, protected and loved you are automatically setting them up to be resilient human beings. But whether a child has a supportive family background or not, these tools can help EVERY child become stronger emotionally and more resilient in life. Of course, there are many children who don’t have supportive families therefore it is essential that educators understand how they can support and encourage developing resilience in students too.

When it comes to who can teach children tools to be resilient the answer is ANYONE. If you are someone who has some involvement in a child’s life you have the potential to offer ideas and tools to encourage resilience and help raise a happy confident successful child. So, here are ways we can help kids and teens in becoming more resilient.

Understanding Adversity


In light of the fact that kids can be egocentric, they need to be taught that bad things happen. They need to understand that sometimes things go wrong, or are not as planned and that we can’t control everything. But that we can try to have a better or healthier attitude towards the things that happen.  This helps to build the emotional strengths of a child.

Understanding Adversity
Understanding Adversity

Sara Blakely, who is a highly successful American businesswoman said in an interview with coach Tony Robbins that when she was a kid her father used to sit her and her brother down at dinner and ask them ‘So what did you fail at today kids?’ They would then talk about what went wrong or not as planned in their day and talk about the best solutions to these problems. This is an interesting approach, and in this case, it taught Sara Blakely problem-solving skills, and how to persevere and be resistant to failure. She was taught to learn from anything that hadn’t gone right and consider how to make the situation better from where she was. She continued to talk about how when she started her own company as an adult even when she failed, or something hadn’t gone to plan she would continue the next day with as much enthusiasm. She was taught to make light of failing to laugh it off and carry on. She had had resilience instilled in her from a young age, and therefore the ability to overcome adversity.

Forgiveness- Developing Emotional Strength

It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.” – Maya Angelou

Forgiveness- Developing emotional strength
Forgiveness- Developing Emotional Strength

When children get into the habit of blaming others for misfortune or misgivings, they tend to grow up doing this, which encourages a victim mentality and isn’t helpful to moving forward. Someone who consistently blames and points the finger isn’t usually a resilient person. They can get easily stuck and bitter about challenging or traumatic situations.

So, forgiveness is one of the most important qualities needed to overcome bad circumstances. Holding on to anger or hatred is most harmful to the person who feels those emotions. To overcome hurt or tragedy in life we must learn to forgive. This is essential to moving forward, moving on with life and defying the odds of adversity. Forgiveness is one of the most important Emotional strengths of a healthy child, and our responsibility as adults, parents or educators is to teach children this beautiful and sometimes challenging human quality.

Begin with the small things. Teaching children to forgive their classmates, siblings, parent or teacher when there’s been a misunderstanding, however small the incident may have been it’s important to present them with the idea to forgive. This doesn’t mean we ignore how children feel or that others shouldn’t face the consequences of their actions, but teaching them that they are allowed to feel sad, angry or hurt but that they also have a choice to forgive and move on. This can then be carried over to more challenging circumstances like family break-ups, big moves, divorce or death.

‘If I develop bad feelings toward those who make me suffer, this will only destroy my own peace of mind. But if I forgive, my mind becomes calm.’ Dalai Lama

If we can teach children to forgive others and themselves for bad things that happen, they will be healthier happier people, without grudges and a learned ability to move on.

Being Seen – Raise A Happy Confident Successful Child


Being Seen - raise a happy confident successful child.
Being Seen – Raise A Happy Confident Successful Child

Kids are more likely to overcome adversity if they know people really care. This requires genuinely taking an interest in what they do and like. Accepting them for who they are and being able to share moments with them. This could be creating things together like a piece of art or dance, or just taking a real interest in what they do. The genuine relationship creates strength of character that helps children to become healthier. The emotional strengths of a child depend on strong and positive relationships.

Knowing They Can Ask For Help And Share Problems


Knowing they can ask for help and sharing problems
Knowing They Can Ask For Help And Share Problems

Children and teens need to learn to be able to open up emotionally, share how they feel and then be able to ask for help or support if necessary. We’ve all heard the expression ‘a problem shared is a problem halved. Resilience can be confused for a ‘toughen up’ kind of mentality, but in its fullness, resilience relies on a healthy emotional life. Which involves children being taught how to recognise how they feel, and then given the tools to share these feelings and manage them. Parents, carers, and teachers need to encourage this in order to raise happy confident successful children.

Michael Kalous talked about his very difficult childhood in his TED talk: The building of hope and resilience in a child, and suggested there are five protective mechanisms as instrumental in accessing his ability to be resilient.

  • Having a Hero could be a spiritual or human moral compass, that provides an accepting and forgiving role.
  • Having a Refuge, a safe place to feel safe and escape stress. It could be home, school, or another place where a child feels safe.
  • Having a Place of Solitude, a peaceful place of serenity such as the outdoors. Somewhere a child can be with their own thoughts and express themselves alone.
  • Having a Voice, Kalous describes how participation in the choir enabled him to be heard and helped him to externalize his internal feelings, but this could be any setting where you’re able to ‘be heard’. A way to externalize the internal is through poetry or art.
  • Having a Purpose, serving others to provide perspective and foster a sense of purpose. This could be charity work, helping animals or an environmental or humanitarian club. A way to help children not just receive love but to share and give their love to others.

So, we have looked at many examples of how parents and educators can help children become resilient. Everyone has the opportunity to play a part in this with the children and teenagers in their own life. Considering what we can say, do and offer in order to support children on their life journey to becoming happy confident successful children and teens.

So, let’s help build resilient, healthy happy kids today!



Eleanor is a facilitator at Shiminly. She has been teaching for 13 years and loves to help kids open their minds, discover new things and enjoy the process of learning.

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Chris is from Devon, in the south of England. He has been teaching English as a foreign language for over six years and has taught in China, the UK, Hungary and Spain. He has a background in Music and studied Composition at the RSAMD in Glasgow, Trinity Laban in London and at the University of York. After finishing his master’s at York, he travelled to China to teach and fell in love with it. He has been teaching ever since.

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