Resilient kids can bounce back from challenges, try again, and learn along the way. With the right amount of confidence and grit, children head into their teenage years and adulthood with the ability to face and grow from life’s challenges.
But kids and teens aren’t just born with resilience. It’s something they must learn and practice.
The resilience activities and strategies below are based on the 7 Cs of Resilience:
Practice these strategies with the kids and teens in your life to help them become more resilient.
Competence is being able to look at stressful situations and say, "I've got this." Kids and teens who exhibit competence stay calm under pressure and, when issues arise, can tackle them. Feeling competent in one's abilities can increase resilience for teens and children because even when something does go wrong, they know they can do better next time.
Competence Strategies for Kids
- Let Them Struggle and Solve Problems: let them find where that last puzzle piece goes or handle challenges with their friends, teachers, and siblings without intervening unless needed.
- Teach Them How to Ask for Help: kids often feel asking for help means they're incompetent. But it’s one of the most empowering things your child can do. Speak to your child about different ways to ask others for help—how should they start the conversation?
Competence Strategies for Teens
- Provide Effective Feedback: feedback lets teens know where they have succeeded and where they can improve. Ensure your feedback is specific, descriptive, and desired.
- Teach Them Perfect Doesn't Exist: if your teen is a perfectionist, they may feel a mistake or "failure" is the end of the world. Help them set reasonable goals and encourage them to add "yet" when they feel they"can't do something." Tell them about your own imperfections and how they have helped you grow. Competence is a work in progress!
Confident young people are competent and know it. They have the skills to handle the challenges life throws at them without much hesitation. Instilling confidence is the cornerstone of raising resilient kids and teens
Confidence Strategies for Kids
- Let Them Have Boundaries: everyone has personal boundaries and we often let people cross them because we don't want to be rude. So teach kids how to say "no" when they need to.
- Teach Them to Love Themselves: confidence isn't just about being strong; it's about consider much more than GPA and test scores when screening applicants. A poor grade is an opportunity to learn, not a reason to lose hope or confidence!
Confidence Strategies for Teens
- Learn About the Mind: teenagers often struggle with confidence, even if they were confident as children, because their brains are changing. Help them find resources about brain development to better understand what's going on in their minds.
- Tell Them Grades Aren't Everything: it can feel like grades are the key to college acceptance and many teens believe college is the only option. In reality, many colleges consider much more than GPA and test scores when screening applicants. A poor grade is an opportunity to learn, not a reason to lose hope or confidence!
Connection in this sense means they feel like they belong somewhere. When young people feel connected, they are less likely to hurt themselves or others and instead show greater empathy. It's difficult to go it alone, so resilience for children and teens heavily involves knowing they have people they can turn to.
Connection Strategies for Kids
- Help Them Find a Passion: music, sports, art, math…allow your child to explore different hobbies and find out what piques their interest. From there, your kids can start forming connections with others who share their passion.
- Teach About Friendship and its Challenges: it can be difficult to make friends and nearly impossible to have conflict-free relationships. First, discuss what good friendships involve. Then, for for more information check out our 5-Day Friendship Challenge for Children.
Connection Strategies for Teens
- Let Them Talk: an important (and easily lost) connection for teens is with adults. Whether you're a parent or a teacher, if you let them speak without giving unsolicited advice, feedback, or jumping to discipline, you may better understand them. In addition, a nonjudgmental adult can make teens more likely to seek help when they're in trouble or struggling.
- Encourage Independence: let teens hang out with friends (relatively) unsupervised. When they're old enough to go out on their own, allow them to do so within reason. Letting them be with their friends without constant adult supervision allows them to form greater connections with friends and learn how to handle future relationships.
Having character is knowing right from wrong and sticking with your values. Teens and kids with strong character have higher self-esteem, show empathy, and feel they can make good choices. All these traits help children and teens build resilience.
Character Strategies for Kids
- Teach Them Not to Compare Themselves to Others: comparing oneself to others can make kids want to bring others down and change their opinions of themselves. Likewise, being unkind to others or feeling less-than (or more-than) can affect their understanding of right and wrong.
- Watch Movies About Character: there are many age-appropriate movies with characters that display positive and negative character traits. After watching, discuss the different characters with your children. In which scenes did the characters show the most resilience? When did they show the biggest struggle? Ask your child how they would approach those difficult situations.
Character Strategies for Teens
- Talk About Current Events: discussing current events allows teens to analyze whether the world aligns with their values and what they could do to make things better. If your teen is especially upset about a current event, allow them to express themselves and explain their argument. Do your best to guide them to a place of resolution—and resilience.
- Help Them Manage Stress: stress can cause anyone to lose sight of their values. Learning to cope with stress can help teens maintain and grow their good character.
Contribution is what we give to the world via attitude and behavior. Therefore, building resilience in children and teens must include lessons in contribution. Knowing they make the world better—even on bad days—encourages them to bounce back.
Contribution Strategies for Kids
- Teach Them About Appropriate Behavior: chances are you've brought your young child into a movie, restaurant, or plane and immediately seen sighs or eye rolls. Teach them how to act in different locations (and remove them to discuss behavior if it's not going well). This helps grow resilience in children because when someone feels welcomed, they are more likely to want to contribute to the positive environment.
- Perform Acts of Kindness: while kindness should ultimately become intrinsically motivated and guided by the children, young ones likely need suggestions before they can be involved in brainstorming. Decide on acts of kindness and do them together.
Contribution Strategies for Teens
- Take the Kindness Lead: while younger kids may need instructions about acts of kindness, teens can make decisions about the types of kind actions they want to take and why. Whether it’s writing a letter of appreciation to a teacher or volunteering at the animal shelter, encourage your teen to perform at least one act of kindness per week.
- Let Them Contribute to Family and Classroom Meetings: inviting your teen to voice their thoughts during family meetings shows you value their thoughts. Take their contributions seriously and, if you decide to go in a different direction, discuss why. Giving them ownership over their own decisions can help teens become resilient and responsible.
How often do we tell kids (or even adults) "deal with it" or even "get over it," not realizing they may not know how to cope with their situation? Resilience for teens and children can't exist without adequate coping skills, which must be taught.
Coping Strategies for Kids
- Read Books or Tell Stories About Feelings: have children identify the characters' emotions and what they think the characters should do. Discuss the ending with your child and ask if they would have done anything different.
- Point Out and Discuss Specific Behaviors: for instance, "I see you rolling your eyes. How do you feel?" Then, ask if they think there's a better way to cope and what that may be. Finally, have them try out the new coping mechanism and see how they feel.
Coping Strategies for Teens
- Acknowledge Their Feelings: teens often feel alone in their feelings. Allowing them to let feelings out when appropriate rather than letting them build can help teens with resilience. It can help them avoid embarrassing or inappropriate interactions that may make them want to hide rather than try.
- Talk About Mindfulness: mindfulness looks different for different people, but the goal is always to cool off and recenter yourself. Help your teen find a mindfulness activity they can use to cope with stressful situations.
When it comes to building resilience in children and teens, control is about knowing what you're in charge of and what you're not. There are things in this life that are simply out of our hands, but we can control how we react to them.
Strategies for Kids
- Help Them Understand Choices vs. Luck: Sometimes, things happen that are outside our control. help kids understand they can't control everything around them or how they feel, but they can control how they behave. Our Circle of Control poster can help them visualize this more effectively.
- Use Effective Praise: praise kids for things they can control, like their effort, rather than things they can't control, like their innate gifts. Knowing their efforts matter more than anything can build resilience in children because it gives them permission to "fail" and try again.
Strategies for Teens
- Help Them Set Goals: creating goals and strategies can help teens stay on track when unexpected things pop up. Make sure they set their own goals so they can feel more in control and less likely to disappoint if things do go wrong.
- Plan for the Worst; Hope for the Best: if you go through potential worst-case scenarios with your teens, and create solutions for those possibilities, your teen may be able to show resilience if they occur.
Building Resilience and Grit for the Future
Building resilience in children and teens takes time and patience. With the strategies above and a lot of practice, you’ll start to see a more resilient child. For a more hands-on approach, try our Resilience Kit, which comes with worksheets and activities for your child.
Remember, as a parent or teacher, you also need to exhibit the 7 Cs of Resilience and set the example. Don’t give up!