Growing up in today’s world is difficult. Academic pressure and expectations, media messaging, peer and family pressures, and larger cultural influences have all contributed to increased levels of childhood stress and anxiety. Youth in America were struggling before 2020 and the covid pandemic exacerbated an ever increasing problem. The 33rd edition of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT® Data Book describes what the US Surgeon General calls a “mental health crisis” for children in America with the number of children and youth struggling with anxiety and depression at unprecedented levels.
Under stress, the brain responds by sending messages to the body to increase blood pressure and heart rate, releasing a flood of stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol, and prepares the body for a fight-or-flight response, all resulting in a decreased ability to focus, problem-solve, control impulses, and manage emotions. For many, the physiological and neurochemical changes remain activated over time as stress levels continue unabated.
But here’s the good news! Brain research over the past decade shows that through practice and experience, we are capable of changing the wiring of the brain and the body’s responses. Building resilience helps children and teens (and adults, too!) to better manage stress effectively, reduce anxiety, build confidence, and more successfully navigate challenges.
In her article Building Resilience in Children – 20 Practical, Powerful Strategies (Backed by Science), author Karen Young defines resilience as, “being able to bounce back from stress, challenge, tragedy, trauma or adversity. When children are resilient, they are braver, more curious, more adaptable, and better able to extend their reach into the world.”
As resilience grows, the brain’s ability to override the physiological responses to stress increases, allowing us to regain control, adapt to the situation, and seek problem-solving strategies. Resilience allows us to see problems and setbacks as temporary, empowers us to problem-solve and reset, and gives us the tools and strategies to manage life’s ups and downs.
Resilience grows when children develop strategies to navigate and respond to stressful situations. Here are some ways that you can help your child to develop and strengthen their resilience:
- Model a growth mindset – the belief that abilities can grow and that “failure” is part of the learning process. It is an opportunity to learn from the experience, reset, create new strategies, and try again. Learn more about developing a growth mindset here.
- Encourage strong connections in their world – family, friends, teachers, coaches, and others who create a supportive, encouraging network around them.
- Teach re-framing skills because how we think about our experiences and ourselves impacts our capacity to overcome and manage difficult situations. Studies show that over time, changing your thoughts actually changes the physical structures of the brain as new pathways are formed. Learn more about the power of reframing and how to employ it in your family here.
- Model positive mental health habits including sleep, exercise, nutrition, mindfulness practices, play, and connection with others.
Support the development of critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.
- Foster optimism.
- Build on their natural strengths.
- Be a role-model of resilience – how you respond to failure, setbacks, stress, challenge, and disappointment has a powerful impact on your children.
- Let them know that it is ok to ask for help and that they are loved unconditionally.
If you’re interested, you can take the Resiliency Quiz here to assess the resilience conditions in your life and find ways to build greater resiliency within yourself or support resilience growth with the people that you love.
The Road to Resilience
American Psychological Association
Building Resilience in Children
American Academy of Pediatrics
Building Resilience in Children: 30+ Tips for Raising Resilient Kids
Positive Psychology Program
How to Help Teens Cope with Stress
AIM Youth Mental Health