Encouraging resilience in kids


Not long ago one of my younger sisters (in blue, on the left) was sitting chatting with me while her baby played nearby.  At one point her little guy, who’s almost walking, plopped down onto the floor, then looked up in surprise at his momma.  It was not a big hurt, but you could see him looking at her to see what she thought of the event.  Was it worth making a fuss over? My sister’s eyebrows went up quizzically, she got a bright humorous look on her face, and she cheerfully said, “Boom!”

He smiled at her response, and went off to play again, reassured that this was a small happening.  If she’d gasped and hurried to him to check for injury, doubtless he’d have reacted more dramatically.  As I watched her, I realized that I did the very same thing when my kids were babies.  No doubt our mother did the same thing for us.

I used to assume this parenting strategy was most useful when parenting tiny ones.  But I’ve come to realize we can bless our kids long past infancy by modeling a relaxed response to setbacks and challenges.

A child might come to me worried about his part in the Christmas program.  I’ll ask, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’  and we talk through what might happen if they forget lines or come in at the wrong moment.  I emphasize their preparedness (or help them get more prepared) and remind them that the very worst things, like falling down or being sick on stage, are usually also the least likely to happen. It also helps to talk about the purpose of the program  (to tell about Jesus) and reassure them that folks watching the performance will be rooting for them.

If my child is having trouble with a friend, I say, ‘yeah, this happens sometimes’ or ‘this happened to me when I was a kid too’ and we talk about ways to be a good friend.  I remind my child that another person’s unkindness is often related to that person’s ‘stuff’.  We might talk about a possibility or two that could lead a person to be unpleasant, and talk about ways to respond kindly if it happens again. (One thing my own momma taught me was to assume the best about another person’s motives.  Even if you’re occasionally wrong, it’s just a happier way to live life.)

There are occasional situations where I might need to advocate for my kids.  And there are definitely times when I have to take a deep breath and talk myself down when I’m getting stressed over a situation my child is facing. Finding that ‘just-right’ balance (caring but not over-involved) is tricky, and I get it wrong sometimes.  But I do best when I stay calm,  and focus on communicating confidence in them and faith in God.  Stuff happens in life, and almost none of it is the end of the world.  One line my kids have heard a lot:  “Life isn’t fair, but God is good, all the time.”

Do you use similar tactics with your children? I’d really love to hear what thoughts this post inspired in you.  How do you encourage your kids to roll with the waves of life instead of getting off-balance?


  1. Things I say:

    God’s got this. Nothing is wasted as we follow after God. Have you prayed about it? You can do this! This_____doesn’t define who you are, you are His child.

  2. I know our children watch us carefully to see how *we* handle stressful situations and trials, particularly how we relate to the ones causing the stress 🙂 Trusting in the Lord and His sovereign will, having a humble heart–being willing to defer even in difficult relationships, and gratefulness in all things goes a long way to help children (and adults 🙂 ) brave the storms in life.

    • “No matter my lot, Thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

      Thanks, Bonnie and Sarah, for elaborating on the most important bit of this whole discussion.

  3. Had to chuckle because my favorite saying through the growing up years of my children was “Is there blood involved” so much so my son cross stitched that saying and gave it to me a few years ago!
    They all knew and understood they were to try to deal with any problems between siblings themselves and if they couldn’t, then come to me for advice but not before. I was not going to listen when someone came in and complained about someone doing this or that.

    Working in the healthcare industry I have to say that everyone HAS to have an advocate for them when visiting a doctor, having a procedure, or going to a hospital for an overnight visit. No matter the age—everyone needs to have someone with them who can interpret what the doctor is saying and to remind the patient what was said. As a parent of a cancer survivor there are too many times children are left alone on hospital floors in what is a horrible environment with the parents assuming too much. They are assuming that everyone who comes in contact with their child (while they are not there) is looking out for their best interests, they are assuming that their child is mature enough to relay all the information the doctor is telling them, and they assume the child is getting along just fine because there is no complaining (children will not complain about a situation they know can’t be change anyways). Parents do not ever leave your children unattended in a hospital environment.

  4. I did not grow up with a laid back attitude about falling down or struggling with friends. I still vividly remember one of my first portrait sessions with a young mom. Her toddler fell down and the mom cheered. CHEERED! I was floored! She cheered because her daughter had the chance to get back up again. That encounter made an incredible impression on me and I have done my best to act the same way with my daughter.

  5. This calls to mind something I read last night. I was reading back through a journal entry from some particularly difficult times when I came across this thought; When Moses objected to being sent to Egypt to be God’s messenger God’s response was not, “You can do it Moses – I believe in you.” Instead his response was, “I will be with you.” Frequently that is the case with us too. He knows we can’t do it, he has a better plan to do it Himself, through us. All the promise we get is that He is with us. And as it turns out, that is all we could ever need. When we parent knowing that not everything is easy or ment to be done in our own strength it changes our response. Thanks for the reminder. I needed that.