When life gives your child lemons, you want her to do more than make lemonade. You want her to be able to manage and bounce back from tough situations with her self-esteem intact. That’s resilience.
If you want to start nurturing resilience in your child today, the first step is simpler than you might think. According to the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, the number-one thing children who develop resilience have in common is at least one strong relationship with a supportive adult.
What does a “strong” relationship look like? And what other steps can you take to raise a resilient child?
The Role of a Strong Adult-Child Relationship in Fostering Resilience
For babies and toddlers, an adult who is consistently responsive, supportive, and loving lays the groundwork for resilience (and virtually every other positive life outcome). One reason for this is that it creates an abundance of positivity in a child’s life, which acts as a buffer when she encounters a difficult situation.
Another reason a strong adult-child bond is so powerful is because it creates the conditions for a child to learn the building blocks of resilience.
The Building Blocks of Resilience
HCDC’s research points to these other common factors in children who develop resilience:
Self-efficacy (a belief in their abilities) and personal control (a belief that their behavior can change the outcome of a situation). You can introduce your little one to these concepts by:
- Exposing her to new and challenging activities (our BabySparks program is a great way to do this).
- Encouraging age-appropriate independence, including self-care tasks like brushing teeth and toddler chores.
- Nurturing a “growth mindset,” or the belief that qualities such as intelligence, talent, and creativity can be developed through effort and learning from mistakes. A simple way to do this: praise her effort, rather than the outcome of her effort (you worked hard on that rather than good job).
- Allowing her to fail and learn from it. Yes, you can do this with babies and toddlers! Here’s how.
- Strengthening executive function skills, which are a hefty set of cognitive skills at the center of successfully learning and accomplishing tasks.
Coping and self-regulation skills. You can nurture these by:
- Helping her calm down when she’s upset, starting in infancy. For a child to learn to self-soothe, certain brain connections need to develop. Every time you comfort your little one, you strengthen the brain connections that will one day allow her to soothe herself.
- Teaching her how to recognize, understand, and manage her emotions and those of others (also known as emotional intelligence).
- Supporting the evolution of learning how to share.
- Teaching her to go with the flow when something unexpected happens.
- Laying the foundation for self-regulation. True self-regulation comes later, but you can start nurturing it now. Here’s how.
A sense faith, hope, and cultural traditions. Research is beginning to show that these can help children find meaning in tough situations, and use optimism to bounce back. Aside from religious traditions (if they apply in your family), you can build these by:
- Fostering a happy and optimistic attitude in your child (and you!).
- Reading books about characters finding meaning in obstacles and overcoming them in an optimistic way.
- Using cultural celebrations to promote positive experiences and rituals.
One of the best things about working on the building blocks of resilience with your child is that it can make you feel more resilient too.