8 Ways to Foster Resilience in Your Child

What is resilience?

Think of a time when life was particularly challenging. Perhaps you were bullied as a child. Your family may have suffered a heartbreaking loss. You might have experienced disappointment at work.

Any one of these events has the capacity to render you sad, depressed, overwhelmed, even defeated. But, if you’ve experienced strong, supportive, and nurturing relationships in your lifetime, chances are you eventually were able to overcome the negative emotions attached to these events and bounce back.

That’s resilience.

A rubber band is resilient. A spring is resilient. Stretch Armstrong is resilient. We aren’t resilient…at birth. But, with support, we gradually develop it from nurturing by trusted adults, by observing how others cope with disappointment, by experiencing a setback and then overcoming it, and through persistence.

The value of persistence

Persistence is the ability to stay involved in a task, even in the face of daunting challenges. It’s the willingness to take risks and learn from mistakes. And, persistence is a powerful characteristic of effective learning. A child’s stick-to-itiveness, and a parent’s supportive response, help foster that child’s future tenacity.

Developing persistence early in childhood has been shown by research to lead to later academic success, including a higher rate of college graduation. In other words, supporting the development of persistence in your child has positive consequences throughout his or her life.

A persistent person is, ultimately, resilient. Thus, a resilient child will benefit greatly from hearing regularly about, and practicing, persistence.

The science of resilience

Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child is studying why some children do well despite serious hardships in their daily lives—abuse, poverty, neglect, or even household dysfunction. Researchers have found that the single most common factor for children who develop resilience is having at least one stable relationship with a supportive parent, a caregiver, or an important adult in their community, e.g., a teacher, a religious figure, a coach.

An unwavering, responsive relationship provides encouragement and protection, helping to buffer the child from developmental disruption and promote resilience. So, despite the odds, that child can grow up to become a productive citizen.

8 simple ways to help your child build resilience

As mentioned earlier, we are not born resilient, but with the proper support, we can learn it over time. Even when your child is not yet talking, there are things you can begin doing to foster this valuable trait.

1. Build a strong, nurturing relationship with your child

Building and maintaining a close relationship with your child is critical. The American Psychological Association (APA) notes that a toddler may not be able to verbally express fear or anxiety, but he or she still can sense when something is wrong. The child might become clingy, have trouble sleeping, or be uncharacteristically irritable. During these times, the APA recommends spending more time with your child, doing an activity together, reading to them, or simply holding them close. Then, even when all is well, make sure your child has lots of quality family time.

2. Maintain a consistent daily routine

Children crave structure, as it gives them a sense of security and stability. Do what you can to keep established routines, even when traveling or in the midst of the holiday season. Knowing what to expect during the day gives your child comfort and a sense of self-control, an important aspect of resilience. As your child develops self-control, he or she is better able to handle emotions in the face of challenges or adversity.

3. Teach your child self-care

When a child eats properly, exercises frequently, and gets sufficient sleep, he or she is better able to cope during stressful times.

4. Nurture your child’s positive self-image

When your child is challenged in life, remind him or her of past challenges and how he or she successfully overcame them. For example, if your little one is trying to learn to kick a ball, recall the time when he or she was learning to walk. Talk about how persistent your child was before finally taking those first steps. Your little one is faced with many challenges while growing up, giving you many opportunities to remind him or her of past successes.

5. Don’t try to solve your child’s every problem

As tempting as it may be for you to step in and “make everything okay,” children develop resiliency when they learn to solve problems and recover from setbacks independently. When a child figures out how to operate a toy, how to stack blocks into a tall tower, how to jump across a rope, or how to draw a circle, for example, that child is building confidence and feeling more capable when new challenges arise.

6. Help your child learn to manage disappointments

When things don’t work out for your child—the block tower collapses, the spoon doesn’t quite make it to the mouth, he or she trips and falls, a favorite toy breaks—acknowledge the sadness, frustration, or disappointment he or she must feel at that moment. Then, help your child understand that these feelings won’t last forever. Remind him or her of a past upset, and how he or she recovered quickly. Describing resilient behavior helps to encourage this quality in your child.

7. Model resilient behavior

Your child is a little sponge—when he or she sees you going through life with an optimistic attitude and bouncing back from challenging situations, your child is more apt to think he or she can learn to do the same. Whenever possible, describe your thoughts and feelings to your child during these teachable moments. For example, you might say, “I was upset at first, but then I realized I could try again another day.”

8. Help your child practice and learn executive functions

The term executive functions is a fancy label for the skills we need to do tasks successfully—concentration, attention, patience, impulse control, working memory, and flexible thinking. A Stanford-led study found that grasping these skills has been linked to a child’s resilience and, ultimately, his or her ability to thrive in the classroom. Strong executive functions in children leads to lower levels of behavioral and emotional problems, greater engagement in school, and stronger academic skills.


Many of ParentPal’s age-based activities use toys or books to help strengthen and enhance your child’s executive functions and other important life skills that support resilience. Why not try one today?