Have you ever wondered why innocence is so often associated with childhood? I believe it is because it is only through the eyes of a child (or a child-like imagination) that we see how playful life can be. When you are a child, you tend to see the good in everything. You feel protected by your parents and teachers from any danger that may come to you. Some correlate innocence with naiveté. But, if you really think about it, innocence is a strength—a tool of protection for a child who in many ways is helpless to manage the unpredictability and complications of this life. However, being a teenager is when things start to get much more complicated. Your teen may experience heartbreak, stress, academic and social pressures and begin to realize that the world is not so fair. With life’s inevitable ups and downs may come feelings of skepticism, distress or despair.

As a parent, you have the opportunity to teach your child emotional resilience. Emotional resilience is one’s ability to adapt to or “bounce back” from a stressful situation or crises with confidence. These skills will educate your child on how to emotionally cope when life presents them with negative or disappointing situations. You will feel reassured knowing your child no longer needs to come to you for every solvable issue. They can take care of themselves and use these lessons as they mature into adults.

Here are five ways you can cultivate emotional resilience in your kid or teen.

Emotional Awareness and Regulation

Emotional resilience is connected to emotional regulation. If your child has trouble expressing their feelings, they can become angry and if that anger or frustration is suppressed for too long, it can eventually lead your child to use drugs or alcohol or any number of things to cope. Instead of resorting to self-medication or other harmful ways to channel powerful emotions, kids and teens can learn how to be aware of their emotions and manage them appropriately.

Life can be demanding and full of change and adversity, therefore it’s important that our kids and teens learn to embrace some degree of uncertainty without melting down or blaming others. 

One way to help your child with their emotional regulation is to teach them not to blame other people for their actions or emotions. Accountability and self-mastery are helpful skills to develop as they mature. They simply need to share how they feel about an experience and take full responsibility for whatever emotion is elicited. Although, no emotion is wrong, all emotions do not need to be acted upon. Reacting rather than responding to a powerful emotion can cause your kid or teen to do something they might regret later. Learning to think before acting is a sign of maturity and emotional resilience.

Focus on the Positive

Stress has a way of making your child focus on the negative. As school gets more demanding, your high schooler may begin to believe they will not graduate or get into a good college. They could think they will face too many struggles in the future that they cannot handle. Motivate your teen to develop a positive mindset when it seems like everything can go wrong.

Teach your child positive affirmations such as “I can only get better” or “Just because I failed one thing today does not make me a failure.” You can help your child understand that failures and challenges are learning experiences. You can get better with each mistake you make as long as they are not repeated. Give your teen credit for putting themselves out there and trying.

Believing in Themselves

Your child may have the mindset that money and popularity are the only ways to achieve success. There are many definitions of success. Success and overcoming challenges for any child begins with believing that they can do anything they set their mind to with the right support along the way.

You can inspire your child to believe in themselves by asking them three things they did well the past week and how they felt. This will give your child the recognition that they are winners every day they try. You can also ask them to list good things others have said about them. 

Share these positive acknowledgements with them often. They will eventually recall these kind words in any challenging situation they endeavor and any door they open.

Managing Perfectionism

Imperfection is synonymous to being human. However, many children and adults strive to be perfect despite plenty of evidence that shows that perfectionism causes psychological distress. Perfectionism can rob our children of their peace due to holding unnecessarily high and even unrealistic standards. Emotionally resilient kids have growth mindsets and understand that striving for excellence is a worthy goal. But striving for perfection is an impossible one.

When our children make a mistake, they think that they are failing or not measuring up to a set standard.  But we can teach our kids that life is about exploring, experiencing, and growing. I often share with the teens that I counsel that life becomes much more interesting once we abandon our urge for perfection and aim for excellence and imperfection instead. 

As caring adults, we play a part in breaking the cycle of perfectionism for our kids and teens.  

Here are some replacement thoughts or “affirmations” that can help your child to cope with perfectionistic thoughts: 

  • My worth isn’t based on my accomplishments.
  • Not everything deserves 100% of my time and energy.
  • It doesn’t have to be perfect to be powerful.
  • Mistakes are an opportunity to learn and grow.
  • I will give myself grace when I make a mistake.

And as much as possible, avoid using the word “perfect” entirely, even as a way to praise an achievement, such as earning an A+ on a difficult exam. This can cause children to believe that they MUST achieve at an incredibly high and perhaps unrealistic level. Instead, acknowledge the effort it took to earn that high grade. For example, you can say “Wow, I saw how hard you studied for that exam. I’m proud of you. How do you feel?”

Asking for Help When Needed

Emotionally resilient individuals know to ask for help whenever they need it most. After all, no man is an island and no help means no positive changes. Your tween or teen may not want to come to you or another adult for help, thinking it is a sign of weakness. Let your child know they are using their strength when they ask for assistance—it is not a sign of weakness. Remind your teen of the positive outcomes that come from asking for help.

Always give your child the impression that you are always available to listen to them whenever they have their struggles. An emotionally resilient child becomes a young adult who is in control of their feelings and can adapt to a positive outlook naturally.

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