Emotional resilience—the ability to “roll with the punches” in times of crisis or adversity—is an invaluable trait in life. Grown-ups who are emotionally resilient are less vulnerable to developing addictions, mental health disorders, and other stress-related health problems.
Thankfully, emotional resilience is also a toolthat parents can give their children. With many kids, it may seem like they were simply born resilient— and, by and large, children tend to be more resilient than adults. But growing up is not for the faint of heart, to the degree that emotional resilience can seem like a lost art by the time a child reaches adulthood.
On that note, here are five tips for raising emotionally resilient children…
Take a Bigger Perspective
When something bad happens, though, it’s often very easy for us to magnify that one experience and think it’s the end of the world. The same can be true for children. Taking a bigger perspective means placing one or more setbacks or disappointments within the much larger picture of a lifetime.
Consider, for example, if our whole life were a giant jigsaw puzzle. In that case, each grizzly challenge, humiliation, or wipeout would be like one piece in that puzzle. Parents can encourage kids to view their adversity as one piece of a much larger puzzle that one day will become clearer and make sense. That bad experience, whatever it may be, may actually help a child achieve something later in life or form their character in positive ways.
Kids in challenging circumstances need to be reminded of this truth. If they can think of their current problem as just one piece of a larger puzzle, that can help them cope better with the issue at hand.
Remember “Please” and “Thank You”
Of course, parents teach manners by reminding their children to say “please” and “thank you,” but remembering these two expressions is also a way of building gratitude and inviting new opportunities to build resilience. When kids are taught to say “thank you” for both the good and the bad things in life, they can begin to see there’s a lefthanded blessing in everything. Even something as small as stubbing a toe can be license to say “thanks” for the opportunity to push through the pain and come out stronger.
Similarly, when kids learn to see the lefthanded blessings in even the hardest of experiences, they’re able to understand that it’s in the act of facing and overcoming difficulties that they become stronger. Say you got into an accident, broke your leg, and were stuck in bed for a whole year as a kid. The lefthanded blessing might be that you developed a much closer relationship with your parents— so while it seemed like a catastrophe, there was at least one way in which it was profoundly good for you.
Allow Kids to Feel What They’re Feeling
It’s okay to be angry, sad, or embarrassed. Whatever the feeling, it’s incredibly important for children to know they can feel that emotion and that it will pass, however painful it may feel in the moment. Parents can support their children by helping them identify and acknowledge their feelings and by giving them room to express what they’re feeling.
If people are taught not to feel sad about something traumatic in their life, they’re going to suppress that. Kids are more likely to develop a stress response when they’re told not to feel a certain way after they have experienced something sad or traumatic. When a child’s feelings are invalidated, they can grow up feeling like some feelings aren’t okay and need to be covered up or buried. When this happens, it’s not uncommon for alcohol or drugs to become a way to soothe the suppressed feelings that are still there.
Slow Down and Breathe
When feelings get intense, it’s helpful for kids to know they can use their breath and count to three as a way to calm down and get centered. They might get upset, but if they practice breathing before blindly reacting and creating a bigger mess, they can slow things down and remember that these feelings shall pass. For that matter, it is perfectly fine for kids to see Mom or Dad get upset and model the same simple breathing technique. When they learn how to breathe through something that is challenging them, they gain greater emotional self-awareness and mastery over their response to feelings and circumstances.
Plant Seeds of Spirituality
Studies have shown that resilience is associated with having a spiritual foundation: If you believe there’s a loving God, Higher Power, Healing Energy, or other Divine Source, you’re more likely to feel like you can rely on that Higher Power when tough times hit. Rather than feel like you’re alone, you’ll have a greater sense that even the most difficult circumstances are working to make you a better person. Kids with a spiritual foundation are better positioned to handle adversity and to view difficult challenges as things that happen for a reason— part of a loving God’s ultimately good plan for their lives.
Together, these five tips embody what it means to “make lemonade when life gives you lemons.” The saying is so familiar that it can be easy to glide over the full meaning of the metaphor, but any kid who has ever run a homemade lemonade stand knows you’ve got to squeeze the lemons to make the lemonade. There’s joy in that process. They’re actively investing in the best outcome possible, despite the circumstances.
Dr. Sachi Ananda is the director of a specialized treatment track for first responders at the national behavioral health provider FHE Health. Learn more about addiction treatment and mental health rehab at FHE Health.