Myth or Fact? Resilience in Kids and Teens
Resilience. It’s a buzzworthy word, but what does it really mean? And what does it have to do with kids?
Resilience is the ability to handle life’s ups and downs. It’s an important skill that kids need to learn and grown-ups need to teach. But there are a lot of misconceptions around what resilience means and how it looks. Read on to learn about what resilience is, what it isn’t, and why it’s important to raise resilience in kids of all ages.
Myth 1: Resilience is about not letting anything bother you
Raising resilient kids starts with allowing them to feel whatever they feel. Then, it’s about teaching them the skills to express and manage, or cope with, their feelings in healthy ways.
- Numbing, avoiding or dismissing feelings. Bottling up emotions can lead to challenges with mood, sleep, focus and even relationships. When kids don’t allow themselves to feel and work through their emotions, it makes them less resilient. However, when kids notice, express and work through all of their emotions, they learn how to cope with life's ups and downs. That builds resilience.
- Pushing through or sucking it up. It’s knowing when to take a break, or even when to say no to something. Adults who keep pushing through are more likely to end up feeling burned out. But those who are more resilient are better able to set necessary boundaries to prevent burnout. That’s why it’s important to start developing these skills in kids—so they’re capable of setting healthy boundaries as they get older.
- Bouncing back to the same place. It’s about bouncing forward, allowing for growth and change over time. This mindset can help kids recognize that challenges can change us for the better. Overcoming challenges make us more capable and resilient.
Myth 2: Resilience is something you're born with
Every child is born with the capacity to become resilient. Our ability to be resilient has to do with how we think, feel and behave. And those are all things we have the ability to work on and change. Therefore, all kids (and adults) can build resilience.
- Are some people naturally more resilient than others? Yes.
- Are there times in life when we feel less resilient than other times? Absolutely.
Resilience is a lifelong journey. It’s something that anyone can learn and practice over time. Kids are flexible and constantly changing, but they need help building resilience. Kids need to learn that they have the power to determine how they think, cope with emotions, care for themselves and interact with others. We must teach kids how to safely face challenges head-on, and how to see those challenges as opportunities to learn and grow.
Myth 3: Resilient kids can figure everything out on their own
Although all kids are born with the capacity to become resilient, they need help along the way. Research shows that kids who are resilient tend to have had at least one safe, stable, nurturing relationship with a supportive adult. Any adult can provide this kind of relationship for a child. It might be a parent or caregiver, but it can also be a teacher, coach, family member or other trusted, supportive adult.
In these types of healthy relationships, the grown-ups don’t stand back and expect kids to figure everything out on their own. They don’t shield kids from everything that’s hard, nor do they try to fix everything. Instead, these grown-ups actively prepare kids to handle life’s ups and downs by consistently being there, teaching them how to cope, and offering guidance and support.
We can’t do everything on our own, and asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It takes vulnerability, courage and strength to ask for help, and it builds resilience.
Myth 4: Resilient kids don’t have stressful or challenging lives
Resilient people still experience pain, difficulty and stress. They experience all life’s ups and downs. The difference is: Resilient people learn how to cope with challenges, manage stress and make healthy choices. Kids who are resilient can see how challenges create opportunities for growth. They know that failing doesn’t make them a failure. They learn to recognize their feelings, solve problems, and work through challenges in healthy and effective ways.
As a parent or caregiver, it may be tempting to try and shield your child from hard things. It’s normal to want to protect them or keep them happy. But it’s impossible to protect them from everything, and sometimes trying to can do more harm than good. Instead, we need to prepare kids by helping them develop the skills they’ll need to handle everything life is going to throw at them. We need to raise resilience.
Myth 5: It’s too late for older kids and teens (or adults) to build resilience
It’s never too late to build resilience. Working through feelings, solving problems and navigating challenges all build resilience. Anyone can develop these skills at any time, and they can continue improving them for the rest of their life. Even into adulthood, our experiences and choices continue to have an impact on our resilience. It’s a lifelong journey.
5 facts about resilience
- Resilience is about allowing yourself to feel whatever you feel and coping with it all in healthy ways.
- Everyone is born with the capacity to become resilient; it’s something we can all learn, practice and develop over time.
- Resilient people tend to have strong connections with others, and be open and willing to seek support when they need it.
- Resilient people still face challenges, but they are better able to cope, manage stress and make healthy choices.
- It’s never too late to build resilience. Anyone can become more resilient, at any time, regardless of what they’ve experienced in life.
Need help raising a more resilient kid? Here are a few simple ways to get started:
- Start a conversation and actively listen to your child.
- Teach your child how to identify, express and manage (or cope with) their feelings in healthy ways.
- Give your child opportunities to try things on their own, make safe mistakes and work through problems.
If you’re already doing some of these things, that’s great. If not, it’s never too late to start. To learn more about building resilience in your child, check out our Raising Resilience initiative.