How to nurture resiliency: Emotional health and development

Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from setbacks and disappointments.  It is a mindset or disposition that equips children and adults to successfully confront challenges and seek solutions to problems.  Developing and nurturing this ability in young children, enables them to learn strategies to overcome adversity through middle childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

Resilient children and adults see ‘mistakes’ as challenges to overcome and to be tackled as opportunities for learning, rather than ‘failures’ to be ashamed of, rejected or avoided.

Children with a resilient mindset feel loved, valued, special and appreciated.  They learn how to set realistic goals, and they have realistic expectations as to how these goals can be achieved.  They learn how to solve problems, and they develop a sense of confidence in their decision-making processes.

Their concept of self presents an image of strength and competence in their own abilities, and they develop effective interpersonal skills in their relationships with other children and with adults.  These children are comfortable in seeking out assistance from others, believing that others are there to help them succeed.  They have a sense of belonging and trust that the adults in their lives care about them and are there to support them.

In order to develop resiliency in young children, adults need to be consistent, trustworthy and loving in their approaches to children.  Brooks and Goldstein (2001) identified ‘guideposts’ embedded in adults who have the ability to foster resilience in children.  The following approaches and strategies can be learned and applied by adults who are responsible for young children’s development.

  • Be empathetic. Try to see the world through the child’s eyes.  Put yourself in the child’s shoes.
  • Communicate effectively.  Listen actively. Find the time to give each child in your care, your undivided attention.  Listen with your ears, your eyes and your heart.
  • Learn to identify and rewrite negative scripts. Know that if you keep doing what you are doing, you are going to keep getting what you are getting.  Adults must first change their behaviour, before children can adjust theirs.  Adults role model acceptable behaviours, and children copy.
  • Demonstrate belief in a child’s worth.  Show a child they are loved, valued, special and appreciated.  Use respectful and kind language and voice tones, and find the time to give each child your undivided attention.
  • Be accepting. Accept a child for who they are, not who you want them to be.  Embrace their unique qualities and individuality.
  • Focus on their strengths. Catch children demonstrating positive actions and behaviour.  Acknowledge their positive behaviour through praise, encouragement and reinforcement e.g. I saw how you showed Sally where to find her shoes.  That was kind and helpful.
  • View mistakes as learning opportunities. When children make mistakes or ‘mess up’, use this as an opportunity to reinforce the message that mistakes are experiences from which to learn e.g. The paint has spilled on the floor.  Let’s clean it up together and think about ways we could carry the paint so that it doesn’t spill next time.
  • Foster a sense of responsibility. Help children develop responsibility, compassion and a social conscience. Provide them with opportunities to make contributions to their home, their school, their community.
  • Build self-esteem. Children with a healthy self-esteem have a realistic sense of what they can control in their lives, and this is where they focus their attention.  This requires effective problem-solving and decision-making skills, carefully nurtured by the adults in their lives.

Reference:  Brooks, R. & Goldstein, S. (2001). Raising resilient children. New York: McGraw-Hill.