Resilience is the social-emotional skill that helps us get back up after something doesn’t quite go our way. This is an importance skill because we all fail sometimes. That’s part of life.
So often, though, for kids and teens especially, failure doesn’t feel okay. It can test our confidence and perseverance. For kids and teens without strong skills for resilience, they might become overly frustrated, act out, and give up when things don’t go their way.
On the other end of the spectrum, those with strong resilience are able to keep themselves calm when things don’t go right, reframe the situation, and see struggles as opportunities for growth. They can bounce back better and stronger when things don’t go right. That’s the goal.
Simply put, we want kids and teens to be resilient to be able to handle setbacks and failures on their own. This isn’t an easy skill to teach because it means that we, as adults, have to watch kids and teens struggle a little. That can be hard. But it’s better to watch kids and teens struggle now and learn those valuable skills for resilience than be unable to handle setbacks later on in life.
Here are 12+ strategies to build resilient kids and teens:
1. Practice coping strategies when calm.
Coping strategies are an important ingredient in the recipe for resilience. When kids and teens experience failure, it can feel disappointing and even devastating. Being able to cope is critical.
If we want kids and teens to be able to apply coping strategies when they are upset or overwhelmed, we need to practice them when they are calm.
Spend time practicing coping strategies on a regular basis. For ten minutes each day, spend time reading one day and coloring the next. You can even make it a coping strategies challenge to practice 30 different strategies in 30 days.
2. Let kids do tasks on their own.
Kids and teens aren’t always going to do thing perfectly. That’s okay! Let them do tasks on their own, even if it’s not exactly the way you would do it. This is an important step to remind kids that they can accomplish difficult tasks independently.
When we don’t let kids do tasks on their own, the opposite effect happens. Kids and teens might develop learned helplessness. They begin to believe that they can’t do a good enough job anyway, so it’s not even worth trying in the first place.
Build confidence by letting them do chores, assignments, and projects entirely on their own. There’s nothing wrong with a little help or support along the way, but when they can do it independently, let them.
3. Let kids make mistakes.
Sometimes, when we see kids about to make a mistake, our first impulse is to stop them. This is with good intentions, but sometimes the outcome can be not so good. It’s important to let kids make those mistakes.
We learn greater lessons from the times we mess up than the times we do things right. Mistakes aren’t just okay; they’re necessary. These are learning lessons every time.
Instead of jumping in to help, you might:
- Ask how the child is doing.
- Have a child talk you through their plan for managing a problem.
- Remind them you are there if they need help.
- Provide encouragement by reminding them they can do it on their own.
- Brainstorm solutions with them, but let them choose.
4. Teach and model flexible thinking skills.
A huge part of being resilience is using flexible thinking to our advantage. That’s because there is almost always more than one way to handle a problem or situation. By teaching flexible thinking, we can help kids and teens train their brains to think in more different ways.
Imagine a teen gets a quiz back and they don’t get the grade they were expecting. With rigid thinking, they might first think they are just horrible with that subject. But with flexible thinking, they can learn to stay more open-minded and solution-focused. They might say to themselves, “I didn’t do well. I know I studied, but maybe I studied the wrong material. I guess I should pay more attention to the study guide in the future.”
Flexible thinking does require practice. It doesn’t always come easy! Give these flexible thinking cards a try to practice these skills with real-life scenarios and situations.
5. Reframe struggles as opportunities to grow.
Setbacks are often one of our greatest chances to grow and learn. Instead of shying away from struggles, teach kids to lean into them.
Let’s consider an example. Imagine a teen doesn’t get chosen for a sports team that they really wanted to join. They might first think, “I’m horrible. I’m just going to give up this sport.” With a change of thinking, though, they might think, “This just wasn’t my time. I wonder how I can improve. Maybe this is a chance to try another sport.”
This approach is known as embracing a growth mindset. It’s helpful for building resilience, confidence, working towards goals.
6. Develop SMART goals and work on them.
SMART goals are a tool that help give us direction. These are goals that are specific, measurable, and actionable. So why does this matter when it comes to resilience? SMART goals can be the next step when something doesn’t go right. Instead of dwelling on a failure or mistake, teaching kids and teens to make these goals can help them determine a plan of action moving forward.
In order to make SMART goals:
- Consider exactly what it is you want to accomplish (be specific).
- Decide how the goal will be measured.
- Come up with steps to attain this goals (these should be action-oriented).
- Explain why this is important to you.
- Set a timeline and end date. The timeline should include times to review the goal as well.
7. Teach that setbacks are part of life.
Let’s normalize setback, struggles, and failures. These are part of life. We’ve all been through them, but for kids and teens, these situations can feel like the worst experience. We need to teach them that these are normal and healthy to go through.
“Grow through what you go through” is one of my favorite quotes for this.
You can talk about your failures and how you’ve worked through them. Similarly, use characters from movies, books (more on this below), and real life to discuss people who have shown resilience.
8. Learn and grow from failures together.
When a child or teenager is upset about a failure, talk it out. Reflection is a powerful too. Discuss what what went well and what didn’t. Consider what they might do differently next time and what lessons are learned. This can be a healthy experience after some time has passed from the setback.
It’s also important to sometimes be okay with not learning anything specific. Sometimes, we just mess up. In these cases, we deal with it and move on, and that’s okay too.
9. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a practice that helps us focus on the right now; this means not focusing on the past “what ifs” and the future “what will happens.” This is an exceptionally important skill when dealing with a setback because it’s a technique that helps center our bodies and minds to the present.
Some strategies to practicing mindfulness include:
- Coloring or drawing while listening to music.
- Using a mindful journal (pictured below).
- Practicing mindful breathing.
- Going on a mindful scavenger hunt.
- Guided relaxations (you can find some mindful guided relaxation videos for children on Youtube!)
- Spending time outdoors with activities like taking a nature walk, watching wildlife, or looking at the clouds.
10. Teach and practice positive self-talk.
Positive self-talk is one of the most powerful tools we can teach. It’s a universal technique that can be used in so many different situations.
Specifically in the context here, positive self-talk is a critical skill for building resilience. It’s the voice that reminds us we can get back up again, even when it feels like we can’t.
Use this free positive self-talk list to help kids and teens develop a positive voice of their own. You can even use positive affirmations as a morning routine to set the tone and provide extra practice.
11. Use confidence-building strategies.
When kids and teens feel better about themselves, they are better suited to cope with setbacks. Having stronger confidence can be like a shield. It won’t fix all of the problems, but it can give kids and teens the tools they need to deal with challenges.
With that, making confidence-building activities part of your every day. One of my favorite techniques is having kids make their own compliment list. This can be tough for some kids, which is usually an indicator they need the boost even more than usual. Learn more about other strategies to boost confidence for your learners.
12. Encourage self-compassion.
Self-compassion is loving yourself even when you mess up. This helps kids and teens to feel happier, less stress, and more resilient over time. Some ways to cultivate self-compassion include:
- Doing something kind for yourself.
- Reminding yourself all the reasons you are wonderful and unique.
- Practice positive self-talk (“I love myself even when I make mistakes” and “I’m a work in progress, and that’s okay).
- Do activities you enjoy.
- Practice mindfulness.
13. Check-in with emotions on a regular basis.
Children and teenagers are better able to cope with the stress of setbacks when they keep emotions in check (that’s true for adults too of course). Teach kids and teens to check-in with emotions on a regular basis. That involves asking yourself how you feel, identifying the specific emotions, and sitting with the feelings before moving forward.
Use this printable and digital 5-step emotions check-in to help kids and teens consider how they feel. It’s something you can incorporate into your every day.
14. Teach problem-solving skills.
In order to problem-solve effectively after challenges, kids and teens need to know how. Problem-solving skills are one of the most important life skills we use every day.
One of my favorite ways to build on these skills has always been through real-life scenarios. Ask a question and discuss how you might solve it. This can be a fun group activity as well as an important 1:1 intervention.
15. Encourage independent problem-solving.
We all learn problem-solving skills best by actually having to work through problems. Having the guided practice with an adult is great, but it’s also important to let kids and teens problem-solve on their own.
Don’t be so quick to jump in and problem-solve for kids and teens. Being there to help is always a good thing, but it’s most important that they get the practice of working through a challenge on their own.
16. Practice with puzzles, brainteasers, and challenges.
One way to actually practice perseverance and resilience is through puzzles, brainteasers, and challenges. These are intended to be a bit difficult. In some cases, kids and teens might want to give up at first. What’s important is that they work through them or come back to them if they can’t get the puzzle in the moment.
Try a challenge of the day or let kids go at their own pace with some engaging brain games. As a bonus, many of these games boost executive functioning skills at the very same time.
17. Use literature to discuss resilience.
Literature can be one of the most universal strategies for teaching and discussing resilience. So often, characters deal with struggles. They fail and mess up. They make poor choices. But they also get back up again. That’s resilience.
Use this list of 100+ read alouds for social emotional skills and you’ll be sure to find many that focus on resilience too.
18. Practice gratitude to gain perspective.
Gratitude is feeling thankful for the things we have in our lives. Reciting these things is the process of practicing gratitude. When we practice gratitude, we feel happier and calmer over time. This can help kids and teens bounce back from setbacks a little easier, remembering all the positive things in their lives.
With all that said, gratitude isn’t a magic solution, but it is a helpful tool.
Use this gratitude activity to spark some inspiration. Kids and teens will think of something they are grateful for using every letter of the alphabet. They can even keep it for times they need to remember what matters to them.
19. Teach that perfection isn’t real.
Perfect isn’t real. It’s that simple (or is it?). Unfortunately, in our digital world, kids and teens are exposed to seeing stages pictures and edited photos every day. This sometimes leads them to believe there is a such thing as perfect. Of course, we know that’s not true.
Let’s remind kids and teens often that perfection isn’t real and that our imperfections are really what make us beautiful.