Building Resilience in Children: Why and How to Do It

Resilience refers to the ability to cope with and bounce back from stress, challenges, adversity, trauma, or tragedy. It's the mental skillset that allows people to adapt to hardships and recover from setbacks.

Building resilience is especially crucial in childhood, as it helps kids navigate developmental hurdles and acquire coping strategies to deal with issues in a healthy way. Resilient children are able to overcome difficulties, learn from failures, develop self-confidence, and maintain overall wellbeing.

Research shows resilient kids have better academic performance, social skills, and mental health. Resilience protects children from developing behavioral problems, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. It allows kids to thrive despite facing serious stresses or traumas in their lives.

For parents and caregivers, nurturing resilience provides a gift that keeps on giving throughout their children's lives. Resilient kids grow up to be resilient adults, able to weather life's inevitable ups and downs. So the more resilience strategies adults can equip kids with early on, the better prepared those kids will be for the long road ahead.

What Resilience Means

Resilience refers to the ability to cope with and bounce back from stress, challenges, adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. It means "bouncing back" from difficult experiences.

Resilient people have certain traits that help them withstand hardship and adapt to challenges. These traits include:

  • Adaptability - The ability to adapt to challenging circumstances and find ways to cope and solve problems. This involves being flexible, creative problem-solving, and adjusting to new situations.

  • Self-efficacy - Having the confidence in one's own abilities and the belief you have control over your environment and can take steps to solve issues. This empowers kids to see themselves as capable.

  • Optimism - Maintaining a hopeful and positive outlook, rather than a pessimistic one. Seeing the potential for things to improve in the future.

  • Resourcefulness - Ability to seek out external support, advice, help, or resources when needed. This includes reaching out to loving adults for guidance.

  • Self-regulation - Ability to manage strong emotions and impulses, control behaviors, and focus thinking. This enables making good decisions despite stress.

  • Empathy - Capacity to understand others' feelings and perspectives. This helps build strong relationships.

  • Self-awareness - Understanding one's own emotions, strengths, limitations, and unique qualities. This guides kids to know when and how to ask for help.

By cultivating these traits, parents and caregivers can help children build resilience as a key life skill.

Why Resilience Matters

Resilience is crucial for children to thrive in life. Extensive research shows that resilience provides kids with the inner strength to cope with and overcome significant adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even everyday stress. Children who develop resilience are able to "bounce back" faster and are less negatively affected by difficult life events and challenging circumstances.

Resilience helps children successfully adapt to change and hardship. Resilient kids are able to face difficult situations constructively, problem-solve, develop new coping strategies, and reach out for help when needed. This enables them to emerge from adversity better equipped to handle future challenges.

It boosts self-esteem and gives kids a sense of confidence in their abilities. Children learn they have what it takes to get through hard times and feel in control of their emotions and behaviors. This promotes positive mental health.

Kids who develop resilience also tend to experience greater success academically and socially. Resilience helps them persist through challenges at school and build positive relationships with peers and adults. It provides kids with the tools not just to survive difficulties, but to thrive and fulfill their potential.

In summary, resilience is a key life skill that allows children to navigate adversity, gain self-confidence, and lead more successful, fulfilling lives. That's why nurturing resilience in kids is so vitally important.

Risk Factors That Threaten Resilience

Certain circumstances and experiences make it more challenging for children to develop resilience. Poverty, abuse, neglect, family dysfunction, learning disabilities, chronic illness, and exposure to violence are all risk factors that can impede resilience.

Children living in poverty often lack access to adequate nutrition, healthcare, housing, and education. The chronic stress of poverty can negatively impact brain development and make it harder for kids to regulate emotions and adapt to challenges.

Experiencing trauma, whether from abuse, neglect, or witnessing violence, is extremely detrimental to a child's mental health and capacity for resilience. Trauma triggers a fight-or-flight response that makes it difficult for kids to cope with stress or failure.

Children with learning disabilities may become frustrated more easily when faced with setbacks. Without proper support, learning disabilities can harm self-esteem and the belief that challenges can be overcome with effort.

Any condition that causes chronic stress in a child's life - whether poverty, family problems, health issues, or learning disabilities - threatens to undermine resilience by depleting mental resources and fostering a sense of helplessness. Identifying and addressing these risk factors early on is crucial to help children cope and thrive.

Protective Factors That Support Resilience

Relationships are one of the most important protective factors for building resilience in children. Having at least one stable, committed relationship with a parent, caregiver, or other adult encourages the development of trust, empathy, and the ability to communicate feelings. This provides a secure base that children can depend on, especially during times of stress.

Community resources like schools, sports teams, faith-based organizations, and extended family networks also bolster resilience. They expose children to caring adults outside their immediate family and opportunities to develop self-esteem and competencies. Extracurricular activities allow kids to discover their strengths and passions in a supportive environment.

Healthy coping strategies are another key protective factor. Children must learn how to manage stress, control impulses, resolve conflicts, seek help when needed, and navigate relationships. Caregivers can model and teach skills like deep breathing, exercise, talking about emotions, journaling, and problem-solving. Using these positive coping mechanisms makes kids more adaptable and resilient.

Maintaining routines, appropriate independence for their age, and reasonable expectations also helps strengthen children's capacity to handle challenges. A balance of structure and freedom fosters the self-regulation and responsibility required to overcome adversity. While protective factors mitigate risk, they aren't necessarily fixed. Focusing on relationships, resources, coping abilities, and consistency builds resilience over time.

Strategies for Parents and Caregivers

As a parent or caregiver, you play a pivotal role in helping your child build resilience. Here are some tips:

  • Model resilience yourself. Children learn from watching you. When faced with challenges, try to cope calmly, think positively, and demonstrate that you can bounce back. This shows kids that adversity can be overcome.

  • Be supportive and nurturing. Provide plenty of love, affection, and emotional security. This helps give kids a solid foundation to handle stress. Praise their efforts and achievements, however small.

  • Teach coping skills. Help children identify emotions, express feelings in a healthy way, self-soothe when upset, and manage strong feelings like anger, fear or sadness. Role play situations to practice these skills.

  • Encourage relationships. Having good connections inside and outside the family helps kids feel secure when faced with challenges. Facilitate friendships and talk about how to be a good friend.

  • Foster independence. Let kids make age-appropriate choices, take on responsibilities and problem-solve on their own. This builds self-efficacy and coping abilities. Resist the urge to swoop in and fix everything for them.

  • Keep communication open. Have regular conversations about feelings and challenges kids are facing. Provide guidance but let them share freely without judgment. Listen attentively and empathetically.

  • Focus on strengths. Notice what your child does well and give them opportunities to develop their talents and skills. This boosts self-esteem and confidence.

  • Allow for setbacks. Failures and mishaps are learning opportunities if handled with resilience. Emphasize effort over outcome, and celebrate trying hard and not giving up.

By taking these steps, you’ll be equipping your child to navigate life’s ups and downs in a positive, adaptive way.

Activities and Exercises for Kids

Games and activities can provide fun and engaging ways for kids to build resilience skills. Here are some ideas to try:

  • Practice positive self-talk. Make "I can do it!" signs and place them around the house. Have kids recite positive affirmations or make self-esteem journals.

  • Roleplay handling emotions. Act out scenarios where kids express feelings like anger or sadness in constructive ways through breathing, talking it out, etc. Praise their efforts.

  • Play teamwork games. Games and sports that require working together build cooperation, communication, and coping skills.

  • Do random acts of kindness. Encourage kids to do nice things for others, like making cards or helping with chores. This builds empathy and self-confidence.

  • Learn from mistakes. When kids make an error or fail at something, avoid criticism. Instead, discuss what they can learn and try differently next time. Reframe setbacks.

  • Practice relaxation skills. Teach techniques like mindful breathing, visualization, or progressive muscle relaxation. Make it a calming bedtime routine.

  • Go on responsibility adventures. Let kids take the lead planning an activity or solving an age-appropriate challenge. Guide from the sidelines.

  • Share inspiring stories. Read books and have discussions about how characters overcame obstacles. Draw connections to your child's own resilience.

The key is providing a supportive environment for kids to build resilience through repetition, creativity, and fun. Celebrate small wins and milestones along their journey.

Creating a Resilience-Building Environment

Schools and communities can support resilience in children and youth in many ways through programs, policies, and resources. Some examples include:

  • Implementing social-emotional learning (SEL) programs. SEL teaches skills like managing emotions, setting goals, having empathy, and making responsible decisions. Studies show SEL boosts academics, improves behavior, and reduces emotional distress.

  • Providing access to counseling and mental health services. Having counselors and psychologists available to help kids struggling with traumatic events or mental health issues is crucial. This normalizes seeking help and gives kids tools to build resilience.

  • Promoting a positive school climate of safety, connection, and support. Policies that reduce bullying, foster belonging, and encourage strong bonds between students and staff build resilience across the whole student body.

  • Offering mentoring programs. Caring mentors provide stable guidance and encouragement. For kids lacking role models at home, mentors can deeply impact their resilience and wellbeing.

  • Strengthening community support systems. Food banks, housing assistance, parent education, youth programs, and faith groups are vital community resources that can bolster families' resilience during difficult times.

  • Increasing access to green spaces. Time spent outdoors, especially in nature, reduces stress and improves mental health in kids. Creating more parks and outdoor recreation opportunities benefits entire communities.

The environments kids grow up in shape their ability to recover from adversity. By committing to programs, policies, and resources that support children's social-emotional needs, schools and communities can lay the foundation for lifelong resilience.

Seeking Help

While resilience can be built and nurtured within children, sometimes extra support is required. As a parent or caregiver, it's important to know when to seek outside help for your child's mental health and wellbeing. Here are some signs that professional support may be needed:

  • Persistent low mood, anger, or irritability

  • Withdrawing from friends and activities

  • Severe anxiety, intense worries or fears

  • Difficulty concentrating or staying focused

  • Significant change in eating or sleeping habits

  • Talking about hurting themselves or feeling hopeless

If you notice multiple signs over an extended period of time, it may indicate an underlying mental health issue that requires professional support. The earlier you seek help, the more effectively it can be treated.

Here are some options for accessing extra support:

  • Talk to your child's doctor or pediatrician. They can refer you to a mental health specialist like a therapist, counselor, or child psychologist.

  • Contact your school counselor or principal. They can recommend school-based services or provide referrals.

  • Look into community mental health clinics. Many offer counseling and therapy services, often on an income-based sliding scale.

  • See if your health insurance covers mental health services. Many plans include coverage for therapy and counseling.

  • Consider joining a support group. Connecting with other parents facing similar challenges can provide comfort and advice.

  • If your child expresses suicidal thoughts, call emergency services or take them to the ER immediately. Their safety should be the top priority.

Don't hesitate to reach out for help, even if you're unsure. Speaking with a professional can help provide clarity on the best path forward to support your child's wellbeing. With compassion, patience and the right support, resilience can be strengthened over time.


Resilience is the ability to cope with and bounce back from stress, challenges, adversity, trauma, or tragedy. It's an essential skill for children to develop, enabling them to navigate difficulties and thrive. By instilling protective factors like social support, life skills, and self-regulation, while mitigating risk factors like trauma and instability, we can help kids build resilience from a young age.

The many benefits of resilience include:

  • Improved mental health and wellbeing

  • Better academic performance and school readiness

  • Enhanced self-esteem and confidence

  • Healthier relationships and social connectedness

  • Reduced likelihood of risky behaviors

  • Increased life satisfaction and happiness

Though resilience originates from within, it can be strengthened through intentional support, modeling, teaching, and guidance from parents and caregivers. By being attuned to children's needs, scaffolding developmentally appropriate challenges, and allowing chances to independently problem-solve, we allow kids to progressively build resilience over time.

Focusing on resilience-building is a worthwhile investment for children's future. The coping mechanisms and intrinsic strengths cultivated will serve them throughout school, career, and life in general. Resilient kids have an expanded capacity to succeed and thrive in the face of whatever challenges come their way.