Building Your Child’s Resiliency

As we learn more about the impact of trauma in children, parents struggle with how to help their kids cope and build resilience. What are some tangible ways that you can use right now to support your child?

The “how to build resilience in a sensitive child” is important for parents to know. It’s not easy, but it can be done.

Vintage kids holding hands and running home from school.

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If you’ve been following along with our resilience series, you’ve undoubtedly realized that reading and understanding these ideas is far simpler than putting them into practice. Much of how you think and deal with issues was formed when you were a child, making it tough to change those thought habits today.

While you can’t reverse your upbringing, you can play a significant influence in moulding your children’s hardiness and giving them a significant advantage in life. One of the most valuable things you can offer your children is a resilient attitude. It is a talent that will enable them to do better in school and at work, have healthier relationships, and live a happier, and maybe longer, life. It’s the key to assisting them in reaching their full potential: although talent is crucial, studies have shown that optimistic children outperform pessimistic children.

In this last installment of our resilience series, we’ll go over some of the previously mentioned concepts, examine how they relate to children, and detail some extra information that educators and parents should be aware of when it comes to improving children’s resiliency. But first, let’s speak about what’s limiting today’s generation of kids’ resilience.

The Rise of Self-Esteem and the Decline of Children’s Resilience

There’s no lack of hand wringing these days about overprotective “helicopter parents” and the hazards of coddling children. Some may dismiss this worry about youngsters “becoming soft” as merely another variation on an age-old critique hurled by every generation (“Back in my day, Sonny…”).

However, the concern that today’s children are being coddled—overpraised and underworked—is not without merit. The “self-esteem movement’s” integration into school curricula has been well-documented, and psychologists have investigated and demonstrated its harmful impact on children’s resilience.

In the 1960s, the “self-esteem movement” exploded. With the Great Depression and World War II behind us and the economy thriving, there was a renewed focus on human choice, not only in the marketplace, but also in the cultural concept that each individual could form his or her own personality and destiny. You’d go farther if you had a stronger sense of self, a happy self.

In 1969, psychologist Nathaniel Brandon wrote “The Psychology of Self-Esteem,” a seminal work in which he asserted that “self-esteem sentiments are the key to life achievement.” Brandon’s views were formalized when a task commission convened by the California state legislature issued a series of proposals titled “Toward a State of Esteem.” Low self-esteem, according to the paper, causes a wide range of difficulties, from academic failure to adolescent pregnancy, and that teaching self-esteem in schools would act as a “social vaccination” to protect children from these issues. It was suggested that every California school district strive for “the promotion of self-esteem…as a clearly stated goal, integrated into its total curriculum, and informing all of its policies and operations,” and that “course work in self-esteem should be required for credentials…for all educators.”


Other states and schools were caught up in the self-esteem movement, and self-esteem boosting activities were introduced into their curricula and programs. These activities were created to help pupils feel good about themselves in the hopes that these positive sentiments would lead to a plethora of achievement.

True self-esteem, on the other hand, involves two components: feeling good and doing well. The self-esteem movement, on the other hand, had its priorities muddled up. While the California study claimed that low self-esteem causes issues such as adolescent pregnancy and welfare dependency, research have demonstrated that poor self-esteem is the result of such conduct rather than the cause. As a result, you can’t start with “feeling good” and expect it to lead to success. In this case, it’s the opposite way around. Doing well leads to feeling good and having real self-esteem. You can’t give youngsters self-esteem; they have to earn it for themselves.

The well-intentioned self-esteem movement has really harmed children’s self-worth and resilience by putting the wagon before the horse. Dr. Martin Seligman, who has done substantial research on the subject, claims:

“Parents and instructors are making this generation of youngsters more prone to depression by stressing how a kid feels at the cost of what the child does-mastery, tenacity, overcoming frustration and boredom, and confronting challenge.”

The irony, as Seligman points out, is that at the time when we’ve been focusing most intensely on improving kids’ self-esteem, levels of childhood melancholy, pessimism, and depression have reached new heights. We’re certainly approaching the issue incorrectly.

If educators and parents sincerely want to improve their children’s self-esteem, the key is to teach them the life skills and concepts they need to succeed, and their self-esteem will naturally follow. Let’s have a look at some of the options.

Children’s Explanatory Style: Its Beginnings

Your explanation style, as we discussed in Part II, is the way you usually describe what happens to you. Pessimistic persons adopt a Me/Always/Everything attitude when confronted with setbacks. Their issues are always their fault, and they are persistent and widespread. Not Me/Not Always/Not Everything is how optimistic individuals explain unpleasant situations.

Children as young as eight years old have already honed their explaining skills. What influences their explanations of the universe and what happens to them? There are three aspects to consider.

The explanation style of their parents. Explanatory style is not inherited, although it is heavily handed down. Children ask many “why” inquiries, and they pay close attention to what their parents say in order to find out the answers and how the world works. Your children will adopt a Me/Always/Everything mindset if you use it often.

Mom is the one who has the most influence on her children’s explanation style. A youngster raised by a pessimistic mother is likely to grow up to be a pessimistic adult. This is because mom spends so much time with her children each day; if you’re a stay-at-home dad, you’re the one they’re watching.


Criticism from teachers and parents. The way a parent or teacher criticizes a kid may have a significant impact on how he or she explains things. When adults tell children that their issues are permanent and ubiquitous rather than transitory and localized, they create a gloomy explaining style. The distinction between a teacher informing a student he failed an exam because “you didn’t study hard enough” and “you’re simply not good at arithmetic” is significant.

Intriguingly, females are more likely than boys to get constant and persistent criticism from their professors. Boys are more noisy in class, so when a male makes a mistake, the instructor chalks it up to his not paying attention; when a girl makes a mistake, the teacher is left saying things like, “I assume you simply aren’t motivated to learn.” Dr. Seligman believes that this early conditioning is one of the reasons why women experience more depression later in life than males; as children, they establish a gloomy explanatory style that they retain into maturity.

In upbringing, the environment/crisis is a major factor. Factors like as a tumultuous childhood, apparently unchanging poverty, and the death of a parent instill in youngsters the belief that awful things happen all the time, a concept that they may apply to every setback.

Developing an Upbeat Explanatory Style

So, if your children are picking up on your explaining style (shocking, right? ), what can you do to encourage them to think more optimistically?

Of course, the most important thing is to model a happy attitude for others. Your child is always observing you. Additionally-

Criticize conduct rather than personality. It’s important to hold your child responsible for their actions, but how you go about doing so is key. Criticism of a child’s character, or of themselves, teaches them that their issue or flaw is permanent and widespread. This encourages passivity since the youngster believes there is nothing he or she can do to improve things. Criticizing conduct, on the other hand, tells kids that the issue is transient and limited in scope; it’s manageable and something they can endeavor to modify and conquer.

Dr. Seligman uses the following examples to demonstrate the distinction between criticizing character and behavior:

  • “Tammy, what’s the matter with you?” You’re a monster all the time!” “Today, Tammy, you’re really misbehaving.” vs. “Today, Tammy, you’re really misbehaving.” It does not appeal to me in the least.”
  • “You’re a wicked lad,” says the narrator. “You tease your sister too much,” vs. “You tease your sister too much.”
  • “She despises playing with other children. She’s quite bashful.” vs. “She has a hard time fitting in with kids’ groups.”
  • “You’re not a sportsperson.” “You have to work more to keep your attention on the ball as it hits the bat,” vs. “You have to work harder to keep your eye on the ball as it hits the bat.”
  • “You kids are such jerks.” “You kids need to share more,” vs. “You kids need to share more.”
  • “Another C-minus?” says the narrator. “I suppose you’re simply not a straight A student.” “Another C-minus?” vs. “Another C-minus?” You should devote more attention to your study.”
  • “This place smells like a pig sty!” “You’re such a jerk!” “This room is a pig sty.” vs. “This room is a pig sty.” You must begin to clean up after yourself.”

PS-The same rules apply to how you criticize your child as they do to how you criticize your spouse. Keep in mind that your youngster is observing and imitating your actions.


Teach your youngsters how to read and write their ABCs. We discussed the ABC’s of resilience in Part II. Adversity is represented by the letter A, beliefs by the letter B, and consequences by the letter C. It is our views about adversities, not the adversities themselves, that cause consequences. This is an important lesson to instill in your children. Parents often focus on the A and the C, inquiring about what occurred and how their children are feeling. They must, however, assist their children in discovering the assumptions that underpin their sentiments. Ask them why they’re feeling this way and show them how their B’s have led to their C’s.

Teach your kids how to counteract their negative beliefs. Help your youngster produce alternatives to how they’re presently perceiving things if their ideas about their adversities are wrong and unduly negative. Tell them to collect evidence for and against their understanding of what’s going on, as if they were a detective. Encourage them to consider the topic from several perspectives and put themselves in the shoes of others. Take them through the activity in Part VI if they’re catastrophizing.

Allow them to fail.

When parents see their children are in pain, whether physically or emotionally, the natural reaction is to rush in and help them feel better.

This is, for the most part, a natural and good instinct; children are fragile and need parental care and protection.

Pain, on the other hand, has an important function in everyone’s life, young and old. It instructs us on what to avoid, highlights our errors, and molds our future behavior. Pain may be a teacher, and we can’t develop without it.

As a result, a parent’s desire to alleviate all of a child’s suffering may be misdirected, and may actually obstruct a child’s growth and development of resilience. Solving all of your children’s issues temporarily relieves their suffering, but it obstructs their long-term enjoyment.

Children must experiment on their own, fail, and experience unpleasant feelings such as despair and frustration. They must learn to persevere in the face of setbacks. There is no mastery without failure and perseverance (the feeling of being in control and knowing that taking certain actions get specific results). There is no self-esteem or resilience without mastery.

Give unconditional love and praise that is conditional.

At the same time that the self-esteem movement was gaining traction, the concept of “unconditional positive respect” was gaining traction. Carl Rogers coined the term, which refers to the belief that unconditional acceptance and support, regardless of what a person has done, is the cornerstone of good psychotherapy.

This word was promoted in the society as “unconditional love,” a term that we are all acquainted with today but that was not widely used outside of religious discourse until the 1960s. When it comes to children, this is a good concept. When it comes to fostering resilience in your children, you want to promote mastery while avoiding helplessness. And providing a secure, caring atmosphere for your kid to gain mastery is a proven technique to assist them do so. A youngster must feel protected in order to feel comfortable exploring and taking risks. A fearless, positive environment fosters a child’s confidence in taking risks and attempting new things.


Unconditional favorable respect, on the other hand, might degrade your child’s resilience.

We explored the phenomenon of learned helplessness in Part II. When dogs were subjected to shocks they couldn’t prevent, they acquired helplessness and were lethargic and unhappy, even when given activities they could control.

However, acquired helplessness may be created by uncontrolled good occurrences as well as uncontrollable bad ones. Dr. Martin E. Seligman explains:

“Unconditional positive regard is just that-unconditional, in the sense that it is not based on what your kid does. This difference should not be overlooked… When a person or an animal receives positive events in a noncontingent manner—nickels fall out of the slot machine regardless of what the person does, food is delivered regardless of what the animal does, praise rains down regardless of whether a child actually succeeds—learned helplessness develops. Noncontigent good event receivers do not become sad like noncontigent negative event recipients, but they do become inactive and lethargic. Worse, they have difficulty learning that they are effective and, after they recover control, perceiving that their activities work. When food becomes accessible exclusively on one side of a labyrinth, a rat that initially learns it can receive food regardless of which side it goes to has a lot of problems subsequently learning to go to the proper side.”

When a youngster is praised and rewarded regardless of what he accomplishes, he learns that positive attention is not within his control and is not dependent on good conduct or achievement. This depletes his drive to attempt new things. Furthermore, when you lavish praise on children for things they know they haven’t done properly, the value of your praise is diminished. So, if your little leaguer has been striking out all season and you keep telling him, “You did so fantastic out there!” The youngster knows you’re lying, and he won’t trust you the next time you compliment him on anything, even if you mean it. It makes him lose faith in you.

So it seems that there is a problem here: on the one hand, positive regard increases resilience by providing a secure environment for children to explore, but on the other side, too much good regard reduces resiliency by teaching a kid helplessness. The balance is found in unconditionally delivering “love, tenderness, warmth, and ebullience” to your kid while also doling out praise on a conditional basis. Praise your kid for their accomplishments, not only to ease their pain or make them feel better. Seligman also contends that praise should be graded, that is, praise should be appropriate for the accomplishment—a little praise for putting one’s socks away, gushing acclaim for bringing home straight A’s.

In a nutshell, provide unconditional love as well as conditional praise and rewards.

Internal Control Locus

When it comes to resilience, we examined the importance of having an internal vs. external locus of control in Part III. Our locus of control takes shape in infancy for the most part. So, how can you make your youngster feel less helpless and more in charge of his life?


According to a 1967 research by Stanley Coopersmith, parents who gave their children the most regulations and boundaries had the greatest self-esteem, while parents who offered their children the most freedom had the lowest self-esteem. Limits are desirable by children, and they are necessary for their healthy development.

Setting consistent boundaries, incentives, and punishment for your kid is one of the most important aspects of developing an internal locus of control. People with an internal locus of control think that if they do x, they will obtain z, and that action and outcomes are linked. These types of associations are ingrained in your child’s memory as a result of consistent parenting. Positive conduct is rewarded. Punishment follows bad conduct. Promise your kid a prize for achieving a goal, and only give it to them if and when they do it. Set a rule with a penalty, and if the rule is breached, always carry out the precise punishment that was promised.

In animal tests, when the animals were given a “safety signal,” such as a beep, before being punished, the animals were able to cope with the punishment. When punishments may occur at any moment without warning and were not preceded by a signal, the animals became agitated and withdrew. They didn’t have any influence over the situation, and there was no pattern to base their expectations on. As a result, make sure the youngster understands why he is being punished and that the penalty is appropriate for the offense. And don’t “lose it” on them if they haven’t done anything wrong and you’re just having a lousy day.

Encourage curiosity and exploration.

Finally, one of the finest things you can do for your child’s resilience is to encourage his or her curiosity. Curious individuals, as we mentioned in Part III, are open-minded and desire to learn more about the world and other people. Their resilience is bolstered by their curiosity, which makes them outstanding problem solvers and masters of interpersonal interactions.

So, even if they’re obnoxious and bombarding you with questions, don’t squash their interest. Respond to their inquiries and encourage them to continue learning. Give children opportunities to explore to their hearts’ content, whether via travel, museums, or the great outdoors. Give kids more open-ended toys that encourage active, creative play. If you’re a teacher, instead of spoon-feeding information to your students, assist them in figuring things out for themselves.

Listen to our podcast on how to give your kids the gift of failure:



Dr. Martin Seligman’s book The Optimistic Child

Dr. Al Siebert’s Resiliency Advantage

Dr. Karen Reivich and Dr. Andrew Shatte’s book The Resilience Factor

Dr. Karen Reivich and Dr. Andrew Shatte’s book The Resilience Factor

We hope you’ve liked the resilience series and learnt something new that you can use in your daily life! Resiliency is critical to your overall health and happiness. It’s an enthralling topic, and there’s a lot more to understand than we’ve covered thus far. Check out the sources we utilized in the different posts if you want to learn more. And here’s to taking on the world with bravery, audacity, and real resilience!


Part I – An Introduction to Building Your Resilience Avoiding Learned Helplessness and Changing Your Explanatory Style: Part II of Building Your Resiliency Part III – Taking Control of Your Life – Increasing Your Resilience Part IV of Building Your Resilience – There’s an Iceberg Ahead! Part V: Recognizing and Using Your Signature Strengths – Increasing Your Resilience Building Your Resilience: Part VI – Stop Catastrophizing Building Your Resilience: Part VII – Help Your Children Build Their Resilience



Resilience is a quality that children can build on. Building your child’s resilience will help them cope with the stress of difficult situations and handle changes in their life. Reference: resilience in children.

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