Helping Children Build Resilience

By Michelle Salcedo, M.Ed., Sunshine House Chief Academic Officer

We all know of, or have read about someone who thrives in spite of challenges. The unlikely doctor who rises out of horrific poverty to become the first member of her family to even graduate from high school. The public figure who leads efforts to help others despite a childhood of abuse and neglect. Or, even a neighbor who carries on and inspires a community in the face of tragedy. This quality that allows people to face adversity and survive, and sometimes even thrive is called resiliency, and it is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children.

As much as every parent wants, it is not reasonable that we can protect our kids from all that is bad. But we can give them the tools to face the adversity, learn from it, and emerge stronger on the other side. On the website, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers families the seven “C’s” of helping children build resilience.

Competence comes as children gain an awareness of their individual strengths and weaknesses. A competent human being is one that understands that challenges occur and feels certain that he has the abilities to handle the difficult times. We help children gain competence when we help them reflect on and learn from mistakes and from the times they solve problems on their own.

As children exhibit more competence; they gain more confidence that they are capable of making it through the bad times. Children and adolescents often feel emotions very deeply, and often fear that the negative emotions they are feeling and/or the difficulties they are facing will last forever. We want them to have a sense of confidence that while there will always be storms, the rain will stop, the clouds will move on, and we can often look forward to a rainbow to brighten the sky. We help children develop confidence by giving them specific positive feedback about their accomplishments.

A strong sense of connection helps children feel safe about venturing out into the world, and that there will always be those that will catch them if they fall. Children feel connected when we establish routines (eating dinner as a family) and rituals (two kisses on each hand every morning) that build special bonds with family and the community.

Children need guidance in developing a system of values and a sense of right and wrong. Like the ABC’s and 123’s, these are concepts that need to be learned and practiced. At The Sunshine House, we recognize the importance of character, which is why our Seeds of Literacy program focuses on different aspects of character each week. You can support character development by helping children recognize how a person’s behavior impacts on others.

Giving back brings together so many of these other aspects as children see themselves as competent, build connections, and develop character as they help others. Contributing to the community also helps children recognize that everyone goes through hard times, and that when we focus on others, sometimes the bad times seem easier to bear. Volunteer at community events, donate to a food drive, or help your child pack up and donate old clothes and toys to help them see the value of contribution.

Coping mechanisms are those that help a child not be overtaken by a negative situation. For a young child, that may be not getting that candy bar at the store. For a teenager, that might be breaking up with a soul mate. We need to acknowledge that her feelings are real, but help her know that they will pass and that she can develop the tools to deal with the strong emotions. Help her recognize and name signs of stress, anger, or sadness, and work with her to find appropriate ways to express these feelings.

We want children to understand that (generally) people have some power in their lives, that events are not purely random and chaotic. They need to see that every behavior has a consequence and they have the power to control their behaviors. We can help support this understanding by reflecting with children the consequences of both positive and negative choices they make. Help them see that they are not innocent bystanders in their lives, but instead, the engineers of their world.

All humans are made up of genetics and our experiences (both good and bad). Resiliency is a key factor in making sure that the end result of our experiences is a competent and contributing member of society.