Giving the Gift of Resilience to Your Children

Jodie Weston Jodie Weston  |  Updated: July 4, 2019
Giving the Gift of Resilience to Your Children

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What We Face in Our World in 2019

We all know that we are living in a time of rapid change. It is galloping at high speed straight toward us. It’s hard to prepare for something that we know so little about . . . the future. This post will attempt to address one proven way to enhance our own and our children’s chances, not only of surviving but also of excelling in this perilous time.

Increased Stressors: Adults and children can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the stresses of what is now considered “normal life”. People seem to be always on the go. We all have tight schedules, extracurricular activities, deadlines, projects to be done and greater expectations to meet. We hardly ever take the time to actually stop and get to know our children.

Many children experience loneliness and torn families, (1 in 3 children in the U.S. live without their father as the number of two-parent households fell by 1.2 million in 10 years).

There are exploited and neglected children and what seems like more bullying than ever before, with serious repercussions. Being either a bully or the victim of bullying has been found to increase the risk of engaging in self-harm, as well as suicidal thoughts and actions, in both boys and girls.

There are increased illnesses, financial worries, and addictions. We have destruction, murder, and conflict right at our doorstep, in our streets, schools, and places of worship.

We shudder at the ever increasing number of mass shootings until we are now beginning to say, “Oh no, here’s another one”. There is a general disregard for law and order and increasing incivility and rage.  We now pray that our children will come home from school safely. The workplace is growing ever more hostile. At schools, at work and even in places of worship we have “Active Shooter” training.

Weather Destruction: There are devastating weather disruptions including years of wildfires, long-standing droughts, destructive floods, hurricanes, and tornados. The financial and mental stresses of these natural disasters are staggering.

Moral Challenges: Daily we see moral values slammed against the wall, disregarded and mocked. History is crystal clear about what happens to societies that abandon their values.

Loss of Freedoms: The U.S. Constitution is hanging by a thread. There are many who have been led down the primrose path by being taught that the “Rule of Law” is antiquated and that we just need to do what feels right at the time. We have all seen judges step outside of their judicial bounds by attempting, sometimes successfully, to “make laws” instead of simply determining an existing law’s constitutionality, or by issuing judgments that are outside the stated bounds of the law.

Despair: When people have these stressors over a long period of time some feel they just can’t take it anymore and so, in their despair, decide to take their own lives.

More children per capita are taking their own lives than ever before. It is commonly acknowledged within the field of suicide research and prevention that official statistics underestimate the ‘true’ number of suicides in any given year. In April 2016, the CDC released data showing that the suicide rate in the United States had hit a 30-year high, and later, in June 2018, it released further data showing that the rate has continued to increase. What can we do to protect our children from falling prey to this?

Our Natural Tendencies: From natural disasters to economic meltdowns the world over, from wars and riots abroad to tragic shootings and civil unrest closer to home, this year brought to light the increasing complexity of the world in which we raise our children. Our natural instinct as teachers, parents, and caregivers is to protect children from excessive hardship; yet we know instinctively that what we all really need to do is to give them the tools to respond to everyday challenges with a clear head.  Of course, this is sometimes easier said than done. To help our children, we first need to develop a resilient mindset ourselves.

There is Hope for Our Children

We can’t stand in front of our children at every turn with arms spread wide to protect them from each hazard and menace. The threats are diverse and numerous, and sometimes the risks come from unsuspected places.  Parents can’t always be there when bad things happen. The potential for happiness and greatness lies within all children. We know that we can’t really change all of the challenges they will face during life’s journey but what we can do is give them stable life skills so that the tests and trials they face will not be able to break them. In short, we can build their resilience . . . the way they respond to life.

As parents and grandparents, one of the most powerful things we can do is instill a resilient character and attitude within our sons, daughters, grandchildren, and those within our scope of influence . . . to arm them against things that would harm them or tear them down. We don’t want to remove all roadblocks and challenges even if we could. A little bit of stress is life-giving and helps them develop the power and strength they need to flourish. Strengthening them towards healthy living is about nurturing them and teaching them the strategies to deal with adversity. Most importantly, we should model and teach them how to conquer trials and then move forward with confidence without reverting to fear, or resorting to intimidation or anger . . . in other words, to live by a decent moral compass. That’s a tall order but it’s within our reach, especially if we begin a purposeful path early in life.

What is “Resilience”?: Once we establish what constitutes true resilience, it becomes easier to understand how we can advance in that area and assist our children in becoming happier more well-rounded, resilient individuals in spite of the hardness of life. Not that our world will necessarily change but we will change and become more equipped to meet life and even thrive in it.  We and they can become stronger than any hard situation we, or they, may be called upon to face.

We know that resilience means bouncing back from failure and misfortune. It also means taking risks to grow, persisting in the face of obstacles, and working hard on skills and solutions that don’t come easily. Resilience means not telling ourselves that we’re failing or that life is too hard but rather that we’re learning and can shine in the face of challenges. It means overcoming. It means getting up after disappointments and failure and trying again.

Studies have shown that resilient people seem to see life more clearly and therefore seem better able to set goals and understand how to reach them. Speaking generally, the most successful people aren’t necessarily the smartest but rather the most resilient. They are the most willing to learn from both succeeding and falling down. . . and fall we will!  Resilience, coupled with faith, makes us more interested in learning than in impressing or blaming others. It is usually our failures and being open to learning from them, that makes us better able to handle setbacks . . . that make us better, stronger and happier people. When children are resilient, they are braver, more curious, more adaptable, confident and more able to extend their positive reach into the world.

Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D., MS Ed, FAAP, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has teamed with the American Academy of Pediatrics to author A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Your Child Roots and Wings. This book provides a wonderful resource to help parents and caregivers build resilience in children, teens, and young adults. It assists parents and any caregiver in helping children identify their strengths and recognize their inner resources.

The authors point out 7 traits that help build resilience:

  1. Competence
  2. Confidence
  3. Connection
  4. Character
  5. Contribution
  6. Coping
  7. Control (self)
  8. If I may be so bold, I would add an 8th trait: Core Values. It is the linchpin of all the others.

Parental Modeling:

  • Probably the most effective way to gift our children with resilience is to show them what it looks and acts like. We are born with the capacity for resilience. However, resilience is not just something we either have or don’t have. We work on developing and strengthening it throughout our lives. Science has proven that growing our core resilience begins at the earliest possible moment of life.
  • When parents cope well with everyday stressors and push forward to overcome daily obstacles, they are showing their children how to do the same. Bouncing back from small failures makes it easier to move ahead when larger challenges come along. Our children are always watching what we do and how we respond to situations; so start early because tiny ones are watching and learning and may eventually mimic what they see, good or bad.
  • Daisy Shirk, D.O., (a Child and Adolescent Psychiatry specialist in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) has this to say about parenting in today’s world and how it can affect the ability of our children to become resilient: “The more we may fear things that are happening in the world, the more we want to shield our children and keep them safe. Taken to the extreme, we don’t allow our kids to develop the resiliency traits that will ultimately help them become the happy, well-adjusted people we want them to be”.
  • As parents, we may experience a need for change in our parenting techniques. Don’t be afraid to admit that you’ve blown a situation… we all do that. Be a resilient adult and try again. Don’t be afraid to allow your children to see your foibles. Acknowledging our own mistakes, owning up to them and changing course shows children that mistakes happen but that it’s not the end of the world…we get up, brush ourselves off and move forward.

As parents, we also need to pay close attention to our children. Listen to them with empathy and love. Don’t ever “half-listen”. We all know what that feels like. If we half-listen they will stop talking. Pay attention, look at them and let them have your full attention. Let them feel that their thoughts really matter to you. If you truly can’t listen at that time, look straight at them and say something like, “I want to hear all you have to say so allow me to finish what I am doing and in (20 minutes) we can have some uninterrupted time together, just you and me.” Then follow through. They are learning resilience and how to be an effective listener because you are modeling that to them.

  • Of course, we should be empathetic when others have setbacks and failures, especially our children. Allowing the time for their true feelings to be expressed freely without jumping in and trying to make it all better, or telling them that they “should not feel that way”, is a crucial part of helping them move forward. Never deny their feelings. Don’t judge their words. Just listen and allow them to express themselves. If you don’t they will learn not to entrust their feelings to you! Allowing them to talk a problem all the way through, while you simply listen with understanding attention, will increase their feelings of worth and of being loved, understood and valued. They can usually resolve their own frustrations anyway after speaking their feelings. Doing this will increase their resilience and will bind them to the one who has made them feel understood. It may also give them the confidence to trust their own problem-solving abilities over time.

  • As children grow and learn they start to form views of the world, usually reflective of how they have been raised.
  • We are always teaching our children by our small daily actions and reactions. We may be teaching them to whine and complain instead of going to the heart of a matter. Remember, we are modeling behavior. From a practical point of view here are a few very simple examples:

1. The proverbial crying over spilled milk . . . just clean it up and pour another glass. Harsh words or glares are not helpful; these are little kids and accidents happen. If children are older allow them to clean it up . . . (A direct consequence). Always keep parental anger or impatience in check and consider mistakes you have made in the past week . . . we can choose to give little kids some slack.  If we do, then perhaps they will reflect that back to us when we are old and spill our milk. We are setting the tone for what is really important versus what is a simple accident.

I can remember cleaning up spilled milk many times when accidents happened. It wasn’t until our children were older than the truth about this type of modeling came full circle when our eldest daughter was telling me how many times her 4-year-old son had spilled his milk that week. She just said, “Mom, I remember that you never got mad when we spilled something so now I don’t either, what’s the point?” I really appreciated that she shared her thoughts with me. (Please don’t think that I never got upset, my kids can tell you otherwise!)

2. A failed test . . . study harder and do well on the next one. Giving up should not be considered an option.

3. Coming in dead last in a race . . . figure out how to train better then try to improve in the next race.

These are things we can teach through our example while our children are young. If they fail at some task, a greater opportunity may present itself because as Thomas Edison said, “I can never find the things that work best until I know the things that don’t work.”

Crying and complaining or making excuses are not buoyant qualities, they are self-defeating ones. They pull us down and keep us there. We want our children to soar, not crash and burn!

My mother had a saying for everything and most of them were easy to remember and so have stuck with me through the years. I must have had a challenge staying at a job because I remember the following words clearly:

Once a job is first begun, never leave it ’til it’s done.

Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.

  • As parents, single parents, mentors, relatives, teachers, or friends we can set very effective examples. Children, teens, and others watch how we face even small setbacks. Do we over-react with blame or shame, anger or screaming? If we take the time to consider and learn how to act positively then move forward without complaint or blame we are doing a great service to those within our circle of influence, especially our children and grandchildren. However, most of us must think about our responses before we are “triggered” into a poor response. We must first make sure to work on our own resilience. We can’t be an example of something we are not.
  • I know several couples who make it a point each week to spend time with their spouse to discuss each of their children and how they are doing. Doing this highlights strengths and exposes areas that need greater parental diligence. It unites parents in their parenting goals. This is one method that is more successful if begun when children are little.

Unconditional Love: Always show children unconditional love. Be aware of how easy it is for children to feel that they are only loved if they are “good” or “obedient”. Sometimes we as parents unwittingly convey that we love only good children. We “react” with a scolding frown to little children who may, in turn, misunderstand that look as being unloved and unaccepted or not good enough to be loved. Often parents don’t take the time to actually stop the hamster wheel and get to know their children. If we wait ’til they are teens, it could be too little, too late.

Children who feel loved unconditionally by at least one parent or caring adult are less likely to give up in the face of discouragement and disappointment. They usually see the glass as half full, and they often go on to become problem solvers. This also applies to children who feel that they are understood. Little else seems to matter if love and understanding weigh into the balance.

Parents should also consider that the question is not, ‘Do you love your children?’ It’s, ‘Do your children feel loved?’ If you are reaching their hearts, they will seek you out and want to spend time with you. Children who feel their parents love will respond better to suggestions and discipline. They also learn to express their feelings more openly.

Research tells us that it’s not rugged self-reliance, determination or inner strength that leads kids through adversity but the reliable presence of at least one supportive relationship, particularly if that relationship begins within the first couple of years of the child’s life. In the context of a loving relationship with a caring adult, children have the opportunity to develop vital coping skills. Research tells if that the presence of a responsive adult can help to reverse the physiological changes that are activated by stress. When children are not the recipients of real love they are more likely to develop unwholesome or disturbed personalities.

I want to take a minute to share with you what I observed in the grocery market a few days ago. There were two parents and one daughter who was about 8 or 9-years-old.

The child was pushing the cart and slammed it right into the mother’s back . . . purposefully because I saw the gleam in her eye as she geared up for the hard hit! The dad put his hand out and stopped further injury. The child started screaming and tried to do more injury, and then she screamed, “Stop you stupid. #%@” then balled up her fist and shook it at him . . . still spewing angry epithets at the top of her voice.

It was obvious that this was not uncommon conduct. Now I don’t profess to know the circumstances that created this behavior but the end result will probably be the same . . . another person unable to cope appropriately with life. One can only speculate about the adult life she will lead.

resilience kid

Words Mean Something: I have heard otherwise loving parents say, “You have been a bad boy”. If a young child hears that phrase enough he begins to believe it . . . then he may begin to identify as a “bad boy”. He may begin to act as what he has been told he is . . . bad.  Instead of name-calling, parents can identify the poor action as unacceptable or bad, but never label the child himself as bad. I would take a chance and say that most adults can recall a time in their past where they felt labeled, bullied and perhaps even unloved. Sometimes it is an off-the-cuff hurtful remark that remains with us. Funny how we can remember those hurtful remarks many years later. So be careful with words . . . they can be lasting and powerful. They can be destructive or uplifting.

One thing my husband and I tried to do as parents were to note more of the positive attitudes and responses of our children than the negative ones. In short, we would “look for the good” and make sure they knew we appreciated their positive choices. Parents don’t have to “reward” with gifts or star charts or even an allowance because usually a simple, “John, thank you for remembering to take out the trash without being reminded. That’s a real help to our family” will be enough. Let them know that their jobs are important to the smooth running of family life and that their efforts are appreciated. Balancing family work with fun is part of what makes family life memorable and draws the family closer together.

Blaming Others or Taking Responsibility: ‘Dear Abby’ had some sound advice: “If you want children to keep their feet on the ground, put some responsibility on their shoulders!”

Coping well includes not blaming others for our problems. Yes, the problem may have been the result of the action of others but the “blame game” is most often unproductive and stagnating . . . the exact opposite of being resilient. The act of blaming keeps us down. Resilience gives us the ability to get back up and carry on with our lives. It means learning to take responsibility for our own actions, a trait that is becoming ever more elusive. How often have you heard adults say, “It’s not MY fault!” If children are raised with this attitude and are not taught responsibility and to own up to their mistakes while young, they will most likely not find fulfillment in adult life unless they discover the value of being responsible people along the way. It takes diligence and consistency to demonstrate and model responsibility. Good parenting is a Herculean task!

There are many ways to provide opportunities to foster responsible behavior. Here are a few. (You may have even more ways for children to develop a stronger sense of duty and belonging).

Household Participation: Being a part of a family group should mean that there is a shared responsibility within that group. In bygone years children were an integral part of family life. They were needed on the farm or ranch in order for all of the work to be accomplished and sometimes even for the family to survive. Done right this gave them a feeling of usefulness and purpose. All children need to feel that they are a valuable part of the family or group, even if that group is only them and a single parent.

Think about the comparison to many of the situations today where parents “serve” their children and cater to their every want and whim. What happens to the child in this environment? Isn’t it easier for them to become demanding, whining, ungrateful children when raised to expect everything and to give nothing? This usually makes for an unhappy family situation and may even go on to create whining, irresponsible, unfulfilled youth and adults. On the other hand, if kids are taught responsibility and made to feel that they are an important part of a working, sharing family they are more likely to develop resilience because they have learned skills and feel good about their contributions.

I sometimes think that we parents have shirked our own responsibility to provide meaningful duties for our growing children. We often make life too easy for them and in turn they can lose perspective. They become takers, demanding more and more. Because they are often overindulged, that becomes their expectation. Little children, often because of parental overindulgence, begin to think selfishly. Instead of actually teaching selfishness this way, we can teach them that they are a valuable member of a family that not only plays together but shares the workload together and helps one another. In doing so you are allowing them to feel the joy of a job well done . . . then have an adventure together!

If we are wise we will create in them a feeling that they belong to and are a valuable part of their family. To accomplish this they need to have chores, not busy work . . . they quickly pick up on that and can resent it. Their jobs need to be things that make them stretch and learn. First set the job that needs to be done and show them how to do it well. At this point, they do not even have to know that you are teaching them. Just allow them to be with you and watch and perhaps take them on as a “helper” when they are young and are eager to please. When you feel they are ready, you can gradually ease out and give them the whole responsibility. You can tell them “You are good at this! Do you think you are ready to take on this job by yourself while I work in the next room for a little while?” “It’s a big job but I know you can do it!”

One caution here from my own experience. Never go back and redo their work! They will get better and better as they practice. Just praise their job. It’s not really the excellence of the work we need to see, it’s their willingness to do their best. We don’t want to discourage their efforts as they are learning to master a new skill.

Being “Family Strong”: In his New York Times article “The Stories That Bind Us,” Bruce Feiler gives an overview of studies regarding the deterioration of the family. In these studies, psychologists found that children who demonstrated the greatest resilience had been exposed to an empowering family narrative, which helped them feel that they belonged to something bigger. “If you want a happier family,” says Feiler, “create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.”

If you are in a one-parent-family don’t give up. It is hard but there are hundreds of examples of single-parent families that have succeeded against great odds.

Here is one outstanding example of a woman, Sonya, who overcame tremendous obstacles and saved herself and her sons through her resilient spirit.  In Sonya’s early life:

  • She was one of 24 siblings, half of whom she never knew.
  • She grew up in foster homes until the age of 13.
  • She was uneducated and unable to read.
  • At 13 she married a man who went on to betray her and their two young sons.
  • She overcame severe depression following the break-up of her marriage.
  • She was incredibly resilient to come back from severe depression, which included psychiatric hospitalizations and a suicide attempt in the two years following the break up of her relationship with her sons’ father, whom she had discovered was a bigamist.
  • She took 2 and sometimes 3 jobs as a domestic to support herself and her sons.
  • She made sure her sons had a religious upbringing. (Core Values)
  • Sonya worked hard to raise her children out of poverty so they would no longer have to rely on government assistance.

From these humble beginnings, this resilient woman created a home environment that fostered hard work, education and a love of learning in her sons. She persisted through a period of their early rebellion. Both Curtis, now a mechanical engineer and Benjamin, a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon, went on to have successful careers at the top of their fields.

There are many people who’ve had difficult starts in life who have continued on to live productive happy lives. So it is possible to overcome severe adversity and become contributing members of society.

In a world where more and more children have high anxiety and are on psychiatric medications at tender ages, giving them an early solid foundation on how important they are within a larger family unit can be a stabilizing force. So often today parents say, “Oh, they’re children, they will adapt.” Often this is an excuse for the parents to spend more and more time on their own pursuits and pleasures. Sure parents need time for renewal and should have that time. Yet they should never neglect to spend family time together. I think that family time is already a priority in many prepper families, so they are ahead of the game. Working and playing together builds stronger relationships and stronger children who become more capable teens and adults. It develops trust and solidarity, and these traits can give children a better idea of how to think through challenges more clearly. This is indeed an important aspect of long-term preparedness!

Serving Others (beginning with your family):  Do not allow your children to continually fight and bicker.  Encouraging cooperation at home lays the foundation for good relationships for a lifetime. Teach them early on to be helpful and kind.

Teaching children to feel empathy for others develops healthy relationships and selflessness. It helps develop respect for life. When they see the normal progression of life, their perspective is more inclusive of others who may be different from themselves. Giving to others can also help protect your own mental and physical health.

Closing Thoughts

We can’t change all of the bad things in the world, and we can’t protect our kids forever but we can do something extraordinary for them.  We can give them the tools to face the hard challenges of life in a way that does not break them. We can nurture their positivity and natural desire to find the good and seek after the welfare of others. We can appreciate our children as they are. By doing these things we are helping to build stronger, happier people who are open, confident and better able to rise above the toughest challenges of life.

In the comments section below, please feel free to share experiences you have had with resilience and how it has affected your life.

Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands (Anne Frank).



Donna takes joy in being a wife / mother / grammy / forager / self-reliance seeker / food preserver / chicken chaser / herb and essential oil user / ham radio operator / spelunker / outdoor enjoyer / raw milk drinker / social media avoider / genealogy searcher / scripture studier / cub master / docent / reader / writer / learner / teacher / helper and faithful friend.

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8 Responses to “Giving the Gift of Resilience to Your Children”

  1. Thank you Zabeth. Our children are the world’s most precious resource and need our love and attention of we are to survive. Thanks for being part of the solution!

  2. Dear Grammyprepper,
    In the world today it is so easy to get stuck in all the negativity around us….and that robs us of happiness and resilience. So glad that you shared the article with the people who mean the most you.. Thanks for reading then taking the time to comment.

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