Three Top Tips for Growing Resilient Children


"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." - Frederick Douglass


Douglass would know about strength at an early age. He was born a slave on a plantation in 1818. He went on to become an African-American social reformer, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement.

Life was tough. Parents were absent. Learning came through experience and self-education. And for a former slave, this happened through grit and determination.


Fast forward to today. Just yesterday, my sister wrote a letter of recommendation for her five year-old neighbor to be considered for kindergarten. Another parent in the neighborhood has made sure that after-school tutors are available and success in everything from spelling to soccer is assured.


Danger. Denying children the opportunity to grow through mistakes, learn from failure, and work through trial and error (not to mention the emotions that follow each), is to create a child unprepared for the REAL world.


Tip #1: Celebrate effort not just WINS


Whether in a sporting competition, a spelling bee, or a college acceptance, not everyone will place “first”. Use the event as a teachable moment. Applaud taking the chance, and making the effort. Discuss – from the child or young adult’s perspective - what are the take-away lessons.


Tip #2: Develop independence versus learned helplessness


Mary’s daughter, Suzie, was asked to bring cookies to her Brownie meeting. Mary said she would tell her Suzie how to make them but that Suzie needed to do it. Were the cookies perfect? No, but Suzie was thrilled. Simple example but it can be extended to helping children and young adults speak up for themselves and learn responsibility in the bargain.


Tip #3: Help children move out of their comfort zone


Life is full of surprises. Change is the new normal. Resilient children are capable of trying new things and not afraid to take risks (within reason, of course). Last summer, we took our newly-minted 13 year-old grandson, Keaton, whitewater rafting. We had thought it would be the three of us and a guide in a raft.


Not so. The only craft available was for each of us to be in individual kayaks, going down five Class 3 rapids (Class 6-"you die," said the guide).


Swell. Keaton was jumping up and down with excitement. I was excited AND terrified. But as we put on life jackets, helmets, and followed the guide’s instructions, I realized that this adventure was a rite of passage for Keaton. If I had said we weren’t going to do it, I would have closed the door on a chance to test his mettle. As it was, he sailed through all of them while I became white water grist in two of the rapids.


As long as we had taken all safety precautions, Keaton pushed his limits. In fact, your children can sometimes help us move out of our own comfort zones. That happened when the two of us jumped off a 20-foot cliff into the Trinity River. It became a rite of passage for me!


To learn more about growing resilient children and young adults, read Joanie Connell’s newest book, Flying without a Helicopter. Developing resilient kids can be a hard lesson for both parents & kids. But it doesn’t have to be.

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