Parents can’t protect children from disappointment, but they can help kids
bounce back from setbacks. Marriage and family therapist, Jason Williams,
explains how parents can teach children how to become more resilient.
There seems to be a strong message in our society that the way to boost
your child’s self-esteem is to simply “protect them from failure”. That might
work to soften the blow of disappointment in the short-term but it will likely
harm them in the long run.
Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from adversity or disappointment.
Most parents want to help their children become successful in life and one of
the most important tools you can equip your child with is the ability to
bounce back when faced with adversity.
One effective way to build resiliency in children is to focus on the 7 C’s:
Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character, Contribution, Coping, and
Competence – the ability to handle situations effectively.
Confidence – the solid belief in one’s own abilities.
Connection– close ties to family, friends, school, and community
give children a sense of security and values that prevent them from seeking
destructive alternatives to love and attention.
Character– a fundamental sense of right and wrong that help
children make wise choices, contribute to the world, and become stable
Contribution – when children realize that the world is a better
place because they are in it, they will take actions and make choices that
improve the world. They will also develop a sense of purpose to carry them
through future challenges.
Coping – children who learn to cope effectively with stress are
better prepared to overcome life’s challenges.
Control– when children realize that they can control their decisions
and actions, they’re more likely to know that they have what it takes to
Let’s examine a real life example that illustrates an important component of
helping a child deal with adversity or a disappointment.
Nine year old Sara is at her first gymnastics meet. She had been doing
gymnastics for less than a year when she entered her first tournament or
competition. She was very athletic and had the ideal gymnast body. In spite
of her inexperience she felt confident going into the competition and felt she
was a good gymnast. On her way to the competition she imagined herself
winning some of the events and pictured in her mind where she would hang
the ribbons in room.
She performed well in several events particularly the floor exercise but as the
competition ended she had not won any event and felt devastated. What
would you do if you were Sara’s parent?
a) Tell her that you thought she was the best.
b) Tell her you thought the judges had it wrong and she should have won
at least one event.
c) Tell her that gymnastics is not the most important thing and emphasize
her other talents.
d) Reassure her that you know she has the ability and feel confident that
she will win next time.
e) Tell her that she did not deserve to win.
Most parents choose D as the answer they think would be best. Interestingly
enough research shows that emphasizing ability alone in this case may
actually be the most damaging message a parent could send. Ability alone
does not automatically take you where you want to go. If Sara did not win at
this competition why would she at the next based only on her ability.
Her wise father actually used a variation of E to assist his daughter to bounce
back and have success at future competitions. He demonstrated empathy
about how disappointing it must have been not to win. He noted that it is
very hard in life to go into something with her hopes up, to do her best, and
still not win. He then noted that many of the other girls at the meet had
been in gymnastics for more time and had worked harder to achieve their
level of success and then added “If this is something you really want then it is
something you’re going to have to work really hard at.”
He empathized with her disappointment and showed the appropriate level of
emotional support as he taught his daughter to learn from her failure or
disappointment and what it would take to have success in the future.
Jason works as a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice.
For additional information go to his website at associatedpsych.com.
Helpful resources for additional reading.
Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D., MS Ed, FAAP, A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience
in Children and Teens: Giving Your Child Roots and Wings.
“Helping Your Child Cope With Life” published by the American Academy of
Pediatrics. Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics.
Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child The Heart of Parenting [Paperback]
Ph.D. John Gottman
Mindset The New Psychology of Success: How we can learn to fulfill our
potential. Carol S Dweck Ph. D,
Jason Williams is a licensed marriage and family therapist. For more
information visit associatedpsych.com