Raising Resilient Families

What to Do When Bad Things Happen to Good Kids

“Fall seven times. Stand up eight.”—Japanese Proverb

Life happens. We all have to go though good and bad times. Resilience is the ability to bounce back after a difficulty or tragedy. So, how can we raise our kids to be resilient when faced with the harsh realities of life?

Tips for all parents...

  • Talk about how bad things happen to people. Every person, at some point in life, will struggle with a difficult situation. What matters is how you react and work through the difficulty.
  • Find other caring, trusted adults for your child to build a relationship with. Resilient people have a strong network of support—in their family and around their family.
  • Talk about acts of resilience in your family. Maybe a family member found a new job after being unemployed. Maybe a grandparent got cancer, went through many treatments and recovered. Highlight the positive effects of being resilient.
  • Tap into your sense of humor. Resilient people see the irony and humor in the darkest of situations.
  • Be there for your child when he or she is going through a hard time. Listen to your child. Stick with your child throughout the difficult time—and after.
  • Do family volunteer projects together. As kids become teenagers, help them find volunteer activities they’re passionate about. Nothing works better to get one’s attention off of one’s own troubles than to help someone else with theirs.
  • Resilience is a state anyone can achieve. Your child, however, will be more resilient in some situations than others. Help your child see where he or she is especially capable in handling tough experiences alone and in which circumstances your child should turn to others for help.

For parents with children ages birth to 5

  • Help your child work through the steps of solving problems. Young children can easily get frustrated when things don’t go their way. Help them to calm down and find solutions.
  • Teach your child how to manage emotions and become empathetic. Resilient people have a strong emotional IQ.
  • Young children often go through a difficult time. If that hasn’t happened to your child, you probably know another young child that has struggled with an issue—chronic nightmares, bedwetting, having major fears, or dealing with an illness. Work through these hard times together. Talk about how brave your child is.

For parents with children ages 6–9

  • Continue to help your child work through difficulties, especially when they get stuck. As children get older, they often think they can solve problems more easily. This isn’t always true.
  • Find activities that interest your child. When life is enjoyable and your child is doing activities he or she is passionate about, it won’t be as easy for a child to conclude that “everything is bad” when one bad thing happens.
  • Keep teaching your child how to deal with anger, frustration, disappointment, and sadness. Affirm what your child is feeling but also help your child work through feelings. Learn more about helping your child be resilient.

For parents with children ages 10–15

  • When bad things happen (and they will in middle school and junior high), talk about these events. Figure out how your child can respond in ways that are empowering. Learn more about dealing with tough situations.
  • As kids enter puberty, they often become extremely self-conscious. Their confidence may drop. Be patient during this time. Help your child find ways to boost his or her confidence by finding activities that excite your child.

Research has found that kids who are involved with things they find inherently interesting, whether it’s the schoolwork they do or the hobbies they have, take failure better and keep working longer during difficulties than kids who do things for rewards, like for money or prizes.

  • Monitor your child’s moods. Kids may go through moody periods and not tell you what’s happening with them. Some blame themselves for incidents that happen to them. Listen to what they’re going through and help them develop positive problem-solving skills.

For parents with children ages 16–18

  • By this age, kids have either experienced a major difficulty or they know someone who has. Teenagers may get pregnant. They may get into car accidents. They may struggle with depression. They may get into alcohol and other drugs. Keep talking about the big issues that kids are facing and help them find healthy ways to work through them.
  • Tell your teenager you’re proud of him or her after working through a difficulty. Teenagers crave to hear from their parents what they’re doing right.
  • Continue to help your teenager work through complex problems. Maybe your teenager has difficulty getting along with a teacher or a coach. Maybe your teenager doesn’t know how to live after a breakup. Take these situations seriously and help your teenager cope in healthy ways.

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