We’re all human. And that means we all have setbacks and challenges. We lose jobs, struggle with health problems, navigate conflicts and grieve the loss of loved ones.
If setbacks are inevitable in life, it’s important to have the skills to get through them.
“We all need resilience,” says Shannon Evers, MSW, LISW, a licensed therapist in Des Moines, Iowa. “It’s so important, because it helps us to successfully cope with the challenges life sends our way. Resilience can also protect you from depression, anxiety and other illnesses.”
According to Evers, resilience is really about building inner strength. “At some point, we realize that we simply cannot control everything around us, and that trying to do so actually creates more anxiety and frustration,” she says. “We learn that building strength from within is far more effective than trying to control the people or situations around us.”
When you build resilience, you become more self-aware, develop confidence in your strengths and abilities, improve your problem-solving skills, and increase your capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses. Resilient people see problems as temporary setbacks instead of roadblocks.
So, how do we become more resilient?
Evers offers this advice:
- Build a solid foundation. First, you need to take care of yourself. Get enough sleep. Eat a well-balanced diet. Exercise regularly. Get involved with activities that give your life meaning. Having healthy habits builds groundwork to help you cope when the going gets tough.
- Develop supportive relationships. Quality over quantity is important—we don’t need a lot of friends, but we benefit emotionally when we invest in good ones. These types of relationships can keep you afloat during challenging times.
- Focus on what you can control. Even in the darkest times, there are things you can do to help yourself during a struggle. Start a meditation practice — even five minutes can be beneficial. Journal. Take an online course. Read an inspirational book. Find comfort in activities that are both good for you and bring you contentment.
- Prioritize your mental health. Resiliency can protect you from depression, anxiety, and other illnesses. The guidance of a trusted counselor or therapist can make this process feel more manageable and give you a roadmap for building inner strength.
How to raise resilient kids
When it comes down to it, growing up is hard. It involves a certain amount of frustration, hurt and tears. And when we’re around people who are hurting, we hurt too. Especially if it’s our child.
“Many parents I see in therapy arrive exhausted and ready to give up,” says Evers. “To them, it seems easier to solve their child’s problems or push all the dangers out of the way. Well, this just isn’t possible. It prevents kids from failing and teaches them that they can’t solve problems for themselves. It keeps them from becoming resilient.”
4 strategies for fostering resiliency at home
- Acknowledge feelings. Let your child know their feelings are valid, and that you see, hear, and understand them in those tough moments. Practice simple, calm and mindful responses like “You’re feeling sad,” or “You are frustrated.” Rather than reacting, deflecting or denying your child’s feelings, respond with empathy.
- Regulate your own emotions. This is hard, especially if your child is misbehaving. But if you become hysterical when problems arise, it’s likely your kids will too. If you stare at your phone as a coping strategy, it’s likely your kids will too. When you work on your own self-control and coping skills, you’ll teach your kids to do the same.
- Maintain a hopeful outlook. This teaches kids to expect good things to happen in life. This doesn’t mean you minimize their problems or attempt to replace negative feelings with happy ones. Rather, recognize the problem, talk through it, look for any positives or learning lessons, and remain hopeful instead of hopeless.
- Own up to your mistakes. Don’t make excuses for your own mistakes or bad behavior. If you’re late to pick up your child from school, say you’re sorry, and make plans to be on time in the future. If you get angry at your teen for sulking, take a moment to calm yourself, then apologize for your outburst. This teaches kids that mistakes are a part of life, and there is something to learn from them.
You’ll hear people say “Children are so resilient,” but it’s not necessarily true, says Evers. “Yes, children have a wonderful capacity for learning. But just like there are factors that build resilience, there are experiences that can destroy it, too, like abuse, neglect, poverty or violence.”
“Prepare the child for the road; not the road for the child.”
“I love this quote about building resilience,” says Evers. “You do this by providing the child with loving, supportive relationships. You teach them how to meet their basic health needs — good sleep, healthy meals and exercise. You set boundaries, and you teach them to have their own.”
Children build resilience by having some tools and support, but they also learn like the rest of us—through experience. When they start navigating these challenges on their own, and when they know when to ask for help, that’s how they build confidence and inner strength. That’s how you build the child for the road.”
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