Resilient Kids—How Can Parents Help?

Dan Reist

Reprinted from "Families" issue of Visions Journal, 2013, 8 (3), pp. 24-25

Resilience is a critical capacity for health and well-being. It represents the ability to cope with challenges, rise above negative feelings, bounce back from bad experiences, and move forward in the face of adversity. It is what allows people to look after themselves when life just isn’t going their way.

Although some aspects of resilience are inborn, others aspects can be learned and practised. As parents, we can help prepare our children for the challenges they will face throughout their lives. According to psychologist Albert Bandura,1 this can be done by developing self-efficacy, the essential building block of resilience.

Fostering self-efficacy

Self-efficacy involves believing in one’s own abilities to face a task and succeed. Its development is affected by how we interpret the input we receive from the following four sources.

  1. From our own experiences of mastery
    How we take the results of our performance on any given task is the most influential source of our self- efficacy beliefs.

    As parents, we can help our kids develop self-efficacy by structuring situations for them in ways that bring success. And, we can avoid prematurely putting our kids in situations where they are likely to fail often. On the other hand, kids need to be allowed to experience some failures. If they experience only easy successes, they come to expect quick results and are easily discouraged by failure.

    Parents can also help by asking kids to evaluate their own performance before giving them feedback. Most importantly, kids can practise identifying what they did well, what kind of effort they put into the task, and what they learned.

  2. By observing others
    Children will learn from parents, teachers and other role models, for better or for worse. A good mentor can model a better way of doing a task, whether the task is learning how to resolve conflict, how to ask good questions, how to refuse a drink, or how to learn from mistakes.

    As parents, we can reinforce positive modelling, not only through our own behaviour, but by asking kids what they observed another child doing well. Adults can also practise healthy self-reflection, sharing with their kids what they liked about their own behaviour and what they might improve with practice or effort.

  3. From what others say about us and to us
    An interesting finding is that repeated negative appraisals by others can and will weaken self-efficacy even more than positive appraisals will strengthen it. In other words, lots of praise is not going to make up for lots of criticism and negative judgments.

    As parents, we can teach our kids (and ourselves) that failure is a necessary part of learning, and that mastery of any difficult task takes repeated, concentrated practice for everyone. When giving feedback on areas that need improvement, we can give our children information about what they can do to succeed at the task, rather than telling them what they did not do.

    We should practise measuring success in terms of self-improvement rather than by triumphs over other people.

  4. From the signals we get from our bodies and our emotions
    In stressful situations, most people experience common signs of distress. We may feel shaky, suffer an upset stomach, have cold hands, sweat more than normal, or feel anxious or afraid. Each of us assesses how confident we feel by how we interpret our emotional and physical state when we think about whatever task is at hand (e.g., a test, a game, a speech, a job interview).

    Parents can help kids tune in to their bodies. We can explain how the physiological signs of stress are actually healthy mechanisms that get our bodies ready for action, rather than being signs of imminent failure. We can teach our kids how to take slow deep breaths and to feel the difference between tension and relaxation. We can have them imagine feeling good about themselves while they mentally practise the feared task.

Persevere!

Some kids, teens and young adults have challenges or personalities that make it harder for parents to keep practising the self-efficacy-building exercises noted above. If positive parenting is wearing you out, take a moment to practise building your own resilience. Don’t give up when it gets hard or when you fail at some aspect of parenting. Don’t tell yourself you can’t do it or it’ll never get better. Parenting requires patience, practice and perspective—and a lot of humour.

 
About the author

Dan is Assistant Director (Knowledge Exchange) at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC, University of Victoria. Dan leads a team that communicates evidence related to substance use in a way that supports effective policy and practice. This involves advising government departments and regional authorities, and creating materials that respond to real-world situations

Footnotes:
  1. Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V.S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, 4, 71-81. New York: Academic Press.
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