Building Resiliency in Children

By: Michael G. Conner, Psy.D,

Whether you realize this or not, you may be helping your children to become resilient. If you can understand the concept of resiliency, you will gain the awareness necessary to raise your children to be more resilient. So, what is resilience?

Resiliency is a pattern of the ways that children can adapt in the face of challenges, adversity and ordeals. Resiliency has been shown repeatedly to predict future success even in the face of tremendous adversity. Resiliency is also related to academic buoyancy. Academic buoyancy is the ability to successfully deal with academic setbacks and challenges that are typical in the course of school life (e.g. poor grades, examination pressures, social pressures). Resilient children who are inspired to learn are also buoyant academically.

Resiliency is based on three primary factors. Each of these factors represents the different ways that children can adapt. The three factors are,

  • Self-Mastery
  • Relatedness to Others
  • Reactivity

Self-mastery is a powerful mix of self-efficacy, optimism and adaptability. Self-efficacy is our belief abilities and judgment of our ability to accomplish a certain level of performance. While our belief in our self is important, the proof of our self-efficacy is even more powerful. Children who believe they can do well are more likely to succeed. Optimistic children believe problems are temporary, have specific causes, and can be managed or solved. They do not blame them selves. They accept responsibility for their behavior. They accept that adversity is part of life, that mistakes are opportunities to learn and they donít give up. Optimistic children know how to approach challenges. Adaptable children can change their approach, attitudes and behaviors as necessary to accomplish goals. Children who are adaptable are flexible in their approach and means to solve problems.

Hope and optimism are not the same thing. Hope is trusting and believing that a better future is possible. To hope, is to expect that best, despite a lack of success and the prospect of failure or ruin. Hope is the belief that a good future is something that can be brought about. More powerful than mere hope is Optimism. Our ability to be optimistic requires hope but also persistence and bravery in the face of adversity, challenges and ordeals.

Resiliency is also based on a childís sense of relatedness to others. A child will feel related if they can trust people, feel supported by others, are comfortable interacting with people and are tolerate. Children who have one good friend, or a group of good friends, endure challenges better than children who donít. Children with a strong sense of relatedness know that their relationships will survive and endure any failure or setback.

Resiliency is also based on a childís ability to manage their Reactivity. Children who are less sensitive, recover quickly from upset, and have few impairments tend to be more resilient. The challenge for children here is to learn how to tolerate their feelings without overreacting; yet use their emotional experience as information that can help them make decisions, understand people and interact in appropriate ways.

So what can parents do? Here is a list of suggestions.

  • Provide your child activities that are a challenge where they can succeed.
  • Express confidence in your child. Point out their strengths and successes.
  • Be kind, respectful and firm with your children. Never act abusively.
  • Encourage your child to have friends. Be respectful toward their friends.
  • Show your child that you are flexible and that can adapt to difficult situations.
  • Express your feelings to your child while remaining calm.
  • Donít overwhelm your child with emotional behavior.
  • Never let your child believe you donít love them.
  • Show your child how mistakes are just opportunities to learn.
  • Remain calm and understanding when your child is upset. Listen and let them talk.
  • Help your children accept and understand their feelings. Donít distract them or reward an emotionally distressed child to make them feel better.


Michael Conner is a licensed psychologist and an educational consultant. He is a Director for Mentor Research Institute, a 501(c)3 charitable non-profit consumer protection information and education resource ( He maintains a private practice in Bend Oregon. For more information go to

copyright 2008, Michael G. Conner