Let’s face it: things don’t always work out the way we hope they will. For kids, this might mean receiving a mediocre grade, getting snubbed by a friend, or waiting for a college acceptance letter that never comes. But as one famous saying goes, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” And that’s where resilience comes in.
This month, in honor of spring’s new flowers, we’re focusing on the art of bouncing back. Although kids will inevitably encounter setbacks as they grow up, there are lots of ways parents can help them build coping skills. Check out our tips for encouraging resilience in kids, along with fun cooking and game ideas.
Tips for Encouraging Resilience in Kids
Give up? Never! Here are a few ways to help kids become more resilient.
Build Trust: Let your children know that they can talk to you about anything, even their failures or worries. This helps them feel secure and supported, and lets them know that it’s not the end of the world when something doesn’t work out. Your kids will gather strength and perspective by talking to you, which makes bouncing back easier.
Model Coping: When something goes wrong (the car won’t start, you forget something on vacation, or dinner gets burned), take a deep breath. Parents who approach problems in a calm, constructive way often have kids who do so as well.
Teach Flexibility: Encourage kids to try new foods and activities through travel or with friends from other cultures. Kids accustomed to finding themselves in new and different situations become more adaptable, and are less likely to be thrown off when something unexpected happens.
Master a Skill: According to child resilience specialist Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, competence is one of the 7 C’s, or one the essential building blocks, of resilience. “Feeling competent allows kids to trust their judgments, make responsible choices, and face difficult situations.” So whether it’s painting, playing guitar or making delicious blondie cupcakes, encourage your kids to pursue their interests and master a skill.
Help build character. Another one of Dr. Ginsburg’s 7 C’s for building resilience is character. “Children need a fundamental sense of right and wrong to ensure they are prepared to make wise choices, contribute to the world, and become stable adults.” To help guide parents in building character, his web site provides questions such as “Do I help my child understand how his behaviors affect other people in good and bad ways? “Our Conversation of the Week blog, which summarizes current news stories each week along with offering thought-provoking questions for discussion, is also a useful tool.
Avoid Helicoptering: As Lori Day points out in the Huffington Post, letting kids struggle with a problem can also be character-building. If your kid brings home a disappointing grade, stop yourself from calling the teacher. Instead, ask “Why do you think this happened? What are some steps you can take to address this issue?” This builds independence and problem-solving skills.
Food: Kid-Friendly Recipes
Ah, the mysterious artichoke. It’s one of spring’s staples, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t know how to cook it. Do you peel it? Chop it? Bounce it against the wall?
Well, not quite. But making artichokes is still super fun, and something kids can do. Our friends at ChopChop Magazine—a publication devoted to nutritious, inexpensive recipes—give a great step-by-step for cooking this delicious spring vegetable.
Large pot with lid
Sharp knife (adult needed)
1 artichoke per person
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted, with a squeeze of lemon or your favorite salad dressing (for dipping)
Wash your hands with soap and water, then gather all your kitchen gear and ingredients and put them on a clean counter.
Fill the pot halfway with water and put it on the stove. Put the lid on and turn the heat to high.
Use the knife to saw off an inch or so at the tip of each artichoke and all but an inch or so of its stem (this is really a job for an adult). Use the scissors to snip any remaining pointy tips off each of the outer leaves, so you won’t poke yourself when you eat them.
When the water is boiling, carefully put the artichokes in, cover the pot, and lower the heat to medium-low. Cook the artichokes at a gentle boil until a leaf pulls out easily when you tug it, about 30 to 45 minutes depending on how big the artichoke is.
Drain the artichokes upside down in a colander for 10 minutes so they won’t be too hot to eat. Then serve right away with the melted butter or salad dressing.
Starting with the outside leaves, pull off one leaf at a time, then dip the pale bottom of the leaf in melted butter or salad dressing, and scrape the meaty part off the inside of the leaf with your bottom teeth. You’ll throw away the rest of the leaf, but you can put it in a bowl for now. Do this with all the leaves until you get to the hairy part of the artichoke (known as the “choke”), then use a spoon to scoop out and throw away the fuzzy choke. Cut up the heart and eat it. It’s the best part!
Fun: Games & Activities
The Art of Resilience. Resilience is a common theme in movies and books. Consider having a movie night during which you choose a film that demonstrates a character overcoming odds or bouncing back. You might watch Rudy, a film about a boy who harbored dreams of playing football at the University of Notre Dame despite significant obstacles. Or Castaway, about a man who makes the best of being stranded alone on a deserted island. After, discuss the movie and how the characters demonstrated resilience.
For younger kids, you can do something similar with picture books. Here are a few fun recommendations:
One by Kathryn Otashi.
In this sweet story, blue is a nice color who feels blue when red and the other colors pick on him. When no one speaks up, red gets bigger and blue gets smaller until “One” comes along and shows that everyone counts.
How Are You Peeling? Foods with Moods by Freymann, Saxton and Joost Elffers
Fun fruits and veggies take on emotions and explore how a smiling friend can cheer you up again. The book offers opportunities for healthy exploration of feelings in different situations and how to deal with both delicious and yucky emotions.
It’s Not Fair! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld
The name says it all. This book takes on life’s injustices big and small and emphasizes the idea that you win some, you lose some.
Build a House of Cards
That’s right. Build a house out of playing cards together. This fun activity offers a few simple, old-fashioned lessons in patience, frustration, hope, disappointment, faith, and starting over. If you can’t find a deck of cards, try a puzzle, which can offer the same, rich mix of frustration and satisfaction.
Knowing their family’s history helps kids build self-esteem, which encourages resilience. Often when they hear your stories about facing and overcoming challenges, kids also feel more empowered. Invite your children to interview you during dinner or at another convenient time. In addition to the ideas you’ll find on StoryCorps’ Great Questions List, you can suggest questions such as: What was a challenging time in your life? What did you do? What other hardships did your family or ancestors face? Did you ever do something that really scared you? Then let the stories begin!
Conversation: Table Questions
Here are a few fun and simple conversation starters to get your family talking about resilience
2-7 Years Old:
Have you ever had trouble doing something new, but kept at it until you figured it out? What was it? Why do you think it’s important to not give up on something right away?
Have you ever tried something that looked scary, like sledding down a big hill or going on a ride at an amusement park? Tell me everything about it.
In the book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Alexander has a bad day. Have you ever had a very bad day? Did it get better? How?
8-13 Years Old:
What are three things that you’re good at doing that take a lot of hard work and practice?
Think of a time you really wanted something, like a part in a play or a position on a sports team, but it didn’t work out. How did you handle the situation? What helped you feel better?
Many famous writers, athletes, and politicians didn’t find success until late in life. Can you think of someone you admire who didn’t give up on their dreams? What obstacles did they have to overcome?
14-100 Years Old:
What qualities does a resilient person have? Is it possible to cultivate these qualities over time? How?
The actor Christopher Reeve, who played Superman and later suffered from a spinal cord injury, once said, “Either we let self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy prevent us from realizing our potential, or embrace the fact that when we turn our attention away from ourselves, our potential is limitless.” What do you think he meant? Is Christopher Reeve an example of a resilient person? How?
Looking back on your life so far, what can you say was the biggest obstacle or setback you had to overcome? How did you bounce back?