Tips For Building Resilience in Early Childhood

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Why do some children do well despite adversity, and others struggle to handle daily stressors? Challenges for kids could be as simple as starting at a new school or as big as divorce or the death of a parent. Understanding why some children bounce back from difficult situations while others remain stuck can help parents and caregivers nurture the tools children need for success.

Children who develop resilience are more likely to become healthy, productive adults. So it’s good news that children can learn to bounce back from adversity. This blog will help define resilience, discuss why it’s essential to child development, and present ideas for parents wishing to foster this life-supporting skill in their children.

What is Resilience?

Resilience is the ability to do well despite encountering difficult times. These obstacles could be difficulty in school, changes in family dynamics, life transitions, living in poverty, or experiencing trauma or violence in the home or community. Resilient people share specific characteristics, including:

  • High self-esteem.
  • well-developed problem-solving skills
  • a variety of coping skills.
  • Supportive relationships and social supports
  • Self-efficacy: the belief that they are capable of success.
  • Self-regulation of emotions.
  • Strong social skills
  • Optimistic views of life
  • Ability to plan and stay motivated
  • Ability to self-monitor emotions and engage in positive-thinking
  • Willingness to engage in exercise

Since resilience is a skill, there are things parents and caregivers can do to support children as they learn to navigate times of stress.

What Are the Benefits of Developing Resilience in Early Childhood?

graphic with the word resilience

The healthy development of young children involves plenty of opportunities for cultivating adaptation skills. Adjusting to difficult experiences benefits children’s mental health and overall well-being. They will be better able to navigate powerful positive or negative emotions. Resilient children are more likely to do well in school, have higher self-esteem, and are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as substance abuse. In addition, children with solid adaptation skills are more likely to be involved with their families and communities. Healthy children grow into well-adjusted adults who develop positive relationships, enjoy better health, and manage everyday life.

How Do You Develop Resilience in Early Childhood?

Some factors contributing to resilience are biological, such as how our brain processes stress. Because of neuroplasticity, we can influence a child’s resilience. Early-childhood educators and parents are uniquely positioned to influence the development of resilience. This section will detail several strategies for promoting resilience.

1. Establish Structure and Routines

mom holidng daughter and reading something

children thrive when they know what caregivers expect of them and what they can expect. Sticking to routines as much as possible helps children manage times of stress because there is less overall chaos than if routines aren’t present. Establish routines for bedtime, mornings, mealtimes, and family traditions in your home. As children age, you’ll need routines for completing homework,

Changes in routines are inevitable, though, so be sure to let your child know when things change, the reason for the change, and when they can expect things to return to normal. For example, if you relax expectations while on vacation, it’s important to explain that this is a temporary change. You’ll resume their typical bedtime rituals when you return to a standard home schedule.

2. Ensure Each Child Has a Supportive Adult

Children’s most significant predictor of resilience is having at least one stable relationship with a parent, caregiver, or another adult. This relationship provides children with responsiveness, scaffolding, and protection as they manage daily stressors. The adult who provides this strong relationship could be a parent, but often it’s a teacher, aunt, uncle, or grandparent. In many families, children have many role models to rely on in tough times.

3. Develop Supportive Peer Relationships

Relationships with peers help children navigate stressors at school when family members aren’t available. These friends help children feel connected, develop problem-solving skills, and improve your child’s ability to communicate well.

4. Talk About Emotions

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Resilient children can experience powerful emotions without letting them derail their day. They may feel angry or anxious about a change in routine but can recover quickly. To process emotions quickly, children need to learn how to identify and manage them.

Parents can help by discussing emotions when they come up and modeling healthy coping. For example, if you spill your morning coffee and shout, try saying aloud, “When I spill my coffee, I feel frustrated. I need to take a deep breath and remember that a spill is easy to clean up.” Discuss how characters in books and movies feel and examples of characters showing self-control. When your child reports something that happened during their school day, encourage them to tell you how it made them feel. Praise your child when they demonstrate self-control.

5. Encourage Playfulness

Play is any activity you engage in for enjoyment. Play and stress cannot coexist. When children spend most of their time playing, they have lower stress levels and more opportunities to develop resilience. In addition, playtime presents unique challenges—adults who remain playful report less stress and greater resilience than those who stop playing.

6. Avoid Exposure to Trauma

Trauma reduces children’s ability to handle difficult life situations. Traumatic situations can overwhelm a child’s ability to adapt, making it difficult to recover from the trauma. Avoid exposing children to trauma such as domestic violence or community violence. When children experience trauma, they must process it with loving caregivers and appropriate psychological support.

7. Don’t Give Children Adult Responsibilities

PArentificiation describes children who take responsibility for household tasks that are too advanced for their age. It’s appropriate for children to help with household chores – this can enhance resilience. But children shouldn’t be responsible for all of the cooking and cleaning in a household. They shouldn’t be primary carers for younger siblings or act as caregivers or counselors to parents struggling with mental illness or substance abuse. Parentification interrupts the normal development of children and lowers their ability to adapt to stressors.

8. Let children Manage Age-appropriate Challenges

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When a toddler struggles to put shapes in a sorter or a kindergartener struggles to form the letter M it’s common for parents to want to jump in and do it for them. However, allowing your child to experience some frustration and learn to tackle the problem from different angles can increase their resilience. Rushing to rescue them teaches children that frustration should be avoided instead of worked through and can lower their tolerance for it in the future.

Rather than jump in and take over, try watching from a distance as your child tries again and again. If they ask for help, prompt them to name their feeling and give scaffolding, such as a starting place for forming the letter or encouraging them to try the blocks from different angles.

9. Work With a Mental Health Professional To Develop Resilience

If your child struggles to adapt to new situations and you want assistance fostering resilience, a trained therapist may be able to help. Using cognitive behavioral therapy, play therapy, art therapy, and more, therapists can help your child and family develop new strategies for overcoming obstacles. At SMPsychotherapy, we have several providers available to work with children and families on various issues that can help children process trauma, overcome adversity, and grow into emotionally healthy adults. Reach out today to schedule an appointment.

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