Resilience: A Key to Growing Up Strong

The World English Dictionary defines resilience as the ability of matter to spring back quickly into shape after being stretched, bent, or deformed.

When you think about it, that’s a great description of how we all hope our kids will navigate their way through this complicated world. To react to disappointment with grace. To accept the inevitable set-backs with determination. To get knocked down and stand right back up again. None of us make it through this life without bumps and bruises, our kids included, but there ARE strategies that can help the tough times become teachable moments rather than crushing defeats.

Over the past several years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has started to place more emphasis on this concept of resilience as a tool to help children stand up to the pressures of modern life. When we look at kids and how they respond to stress in their lives — whether it comes from peer pressure at school, out-of-line crazy adult expectations, or a tragedy that is entirely outside of their control — we see that a key predictor of success is their ability to bounce back and thrive in the face of tough challenges.

The good news is that resilience can be learned. We can teach our kids to manage feelings of distress and anxiety without a melt-down, and we can create opportunities that help grow and develop that ability to roll with the punches. The American Academy of Pediatrics has come up with The 7 C’s of Resilience, a handy list of traits that will help your child tackle the rough patches, along with practical guidance to make it happen.

The 7 C’s of Resilience

All children have abilities and strengths that can help them cope with everyday life. As parents, you can develop your children’s resilience by paying attention to those strengths and building on them. But what are the ingredients of resilience? There are 7 essential components, all interrelated, called the 7 Crucial Cs.

Competence – the ability to handle situations effectively.

Confidence – the solid belief in one’s own abilities.

Connection – close ties to family, friends, school, and community give children a sense of security and values that prevent them from seeking destructive alternatives to love and attention.

Character – a fundamental sense of right and wrong that helps children make wise choices, contribute to the world, and become stable adults.

Contribution – when children realize that the world is a better place because they are in it, they will take actions and make choices that improve the world. They will also develop a sense of purpose to carry them through future challenges.

Coping – children who learn to cope effectively with stress are better prepared to overcome life’s challenges.

Control – when children realize that they can control their decisions and actions, they’re more likely to know that they have what it takes to bounce back.

So let’s talk about examples.

Competence: When your child complains that a teacher is unfair, or that she’s received a grade/paper topic/class assignment/fill-in-the-blank that she didn’t want, DO NOT swoop in to fix it. Brainstorm with your child to figure out what the problem is and how she might go about addressing it. Sometimes you may find that it’s one of those suck-it-up situations. Other times you may help her figure out how SHE can be the master of her fate. In either case, she’ll learn to rely on herself to handle the situation.

Confidence: This is when you have to let go and allow your child to shine on his own. Yes, he CAN handle that 2nd grade science project without you staying up all night to fine-tune the computer graphics. And when he does he’ll gain a sense of pride that you can’t give him. “I did it myself!” That’s a beautiful thing.

Connection: Take her to that cousin’s Bar Mitzvah half way across the country. Make sure she sends Grandpa a birthday card (if it’s home-made that’s even better). Let her know that there are people who love her and will be there when she needs a safety net. And that SHE is someone’s safety net, too.

Character: This is a big one. It means that yes, you have to pay for him at the all-you-can-eat salad bar when he turns 5, and 4 and under eat free. It means that you demonstrate concern for your friends and neighbors, and let him know that you expect him to do the same. It means that when another kid bullies his best friend, he knows that the right thing is to stand up and speak out.

Contribution: You’ll need to model this one, big time. The question is “how can I help?” The answer can be as small as, “share your sandwich with the classmate who forgot to bring a lunch” or as large as, “start a recycling campaign at school.” It doesn’t matter. This is one time where the thought really IS what counts.

Coping: In order to learn to cope with challenges, you have to face some. It’s SO tempting to step in and prevent her from feeling any pain or stress … after all, isn’t that what we moms are there for? Well, no. Problems appear. Situations present themselves. She needs to fall down and bump her head when she’s learning to walk. Otherwise, how will she handle scraping her knee when she learns to run? Small challenges help her learn to deal with larger challenges.

Control: When your toddler refuses to eat those healthy foods he loved just last week, that’s about control. When he’s dressing for pre-school and insists on that striped T-shirt he outgrew months ago, that’s about control. And later, when he chooses that interesting, asymmetrical hair style that makes you cringe he’s telling you and the world that he’s in control … of some things, at least. This sense of control is critical when hard problems require tough decisions. Celebrate it. Encourage it. Nurture it.

Resilience. The ability to recover quickly from setbacks. How can you help your kiddo develop it?

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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