3 Ways to Build Resilience in Kids

Oct 8, 2023 / By Dr. Becky

Dr. Becky reframes resilience for parents and walks through her go-to, practical strategies for helping your kids build coping skills for whatever life throws their way.  

Many of us grew up believing that “resilience” meant succeeding against all odds or putting on a happy face in tough times. I have a different take. 

Resilience isn’t about success or happiness. Resilience is actually about tolerating messy, tough feelings—the kind of distressing feelings that come up when achievement or satisfaction aren’t guaranteed. It’s what allows us to:

  • Embrace challenges (instead of taking the easy path)

  • Navigate conflict (instead of shutting down)

  • Adapt to change (instead of being stubborn or inflexible) 

  • Try again after failing (instead of giving up)

  • And so much more. 

Why does this reframe matter? As a clinical psychologist, mom of three, and founder of the online global parenting community Good Inside, I haven’t met a single parent who doesn’t want the best for their kids. (Myself included!) And yet, I think we often confuse “the best” with “lack of distress,” leading us to jump into solution or “fix-it” mode when our kids struggle—whether it’s knocking over a block tower, making a mistake on a drawing, or feeling challenged by a tricky science project. 

Here’s the thing: Our kids can’t build coping skills for feelings or experiences they haven’t gone through. 

When we understand resilience as tolerating distress, we can start to intervene in our kids’ struggles differently today—so they can learn to cope with whatever the world throws their way in the future. This is actually how we do everything at Good Inside: Our strategies for everyday parenting moments simultaneously build our kids’ life-long skills. Pretty efficient, right? Let’s get started. 

The Big Idea: Support, Don’t Solve

First, let’s ground ourselves in a foundational idea: Our kids’ feelings need support, not solutions. 

Feelings are only scary when we feel alone in them. Solutions (“Let me help you!” or “Don’t cry, it’s okay!”) try to pull our kids out of their feelings, which just leaves them more confused and isolated. When we support, we do the opposite: We sit with our kids in their feelings (“You’ll know when you’re ready to try again” or “I believe you.”). It's as if we’re saying, "You can get through this emotion. You can get through it, because I'm not scared of it and I’m right here with you.” 

Our kids can't learn to tolerate feelings that we do not tolerate in them. So the more we tolerate our kid’s distress, the more they build the skills to tolerate it, too. Over time, they’ll develop resilience by feeling supported as they work hard, tap into their creativity, and try new things.

Now, let’s turn this idea into action with three of my go-to, practical scripts and strategies for wiring kids with resilience. (And remember… more important than getting the strategy “just right” is coming back to this guiding principle: Support, don’t solve. Ask yourself: Am I helping my child tolerate this feeling, or am I helping them learn to avoid this feeling? We want the first.)

1. Sit on the Feelings Bench

The “Feelings Bench” is core to the Good Inside method. Time and time again, it’s a visual I come back to guide my actions when my kids are struggling. 

Here’s the idea: Imagine your child sitting on a bench. Let’s say it’s the “frustration bench.” Now, imagine the difference between trying to pull your child off the bench—“This puzzle piece goes there, see!”—versus taking a seat next to them and saying, “Deep breaths. It’s okay to feel frustrated, I’m right here with you.”

Sitting on the feelings bench now isn’t just helpful in the moment; it’s what helps our kids navigate those same hard feelings when they’re 18 or 40. 

2. Say “Oh, that’s tricky”

One of my all-time favorite parenting phrases: “Oh, that’s tricky.”

Why? It validates a child’s discomfort, while reminding us not to jump in with a solution. Let’s say your child is working on a KiwiCo Pinball Machine and calls out, “I need help, it’s too hard!” You can respond, “Oh, that’s tricky! Hmm… You need to launch the ball from here to there. So hard to get it where you want to go.”

By naming what’s happening without solving it, we help our kids build resilience by lengthening the amount of time they can work at something before finding success.

3. Model struggling

Our children watch us succeed at all kinds of little things—writing our names, reaching high shelves, cutting an apple—so no wonder they find it frustrating when similar activities are hard for them. We can help them tolerate distress by normalizing struggling and modeling realistic emotion regulation. 

This can be as simple as messing up a word while reading a bedtime book or struggling to open a jar of tomato sauce in front of your kids. You can express your frustration with making a mistake, while modeling coping skills: “Ah, I can’t believe I got that word wrong! I’m so frustrated. Wait… wait… I can do hard things. Ok, deep breaths. Let me try again.”

More Strategies for Resilience (and Everything Else) 

Sometimes reading new ideas like this feels like enough. Sometimes it feels like just the beginning. 

If you have more questions about building resilience or anything else parenting throws your way, I’ve got answers. With step-by-step guides to play, tantrums, anxiety, sleep, food, potty learning, and more, Good Inside gives you skills to become the parent you want to be in the moments that matter most. Get started here!

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