Resilience does not come easily to very young children. When a toy is unavailable or a difficult task is looming, many toddlers and preschoolers simply collapse. But helping them to build a foundation that will support greater resilience as they get older is invaluable. Resilience is the ability to look at a setback or a difficulty, and to manage one’s emotions so that one is able to find ways of overcoming challenges. Your child can learn to build resilience with your help.
Having an adult to depend on when trouble arises is the first step to building resilience. It may seem counter-intuitive, but remember that resilience and self-reliance are different from one another, and young children simply need an adult to help them understand how to problem solve while they are first learning to do so. At home, you may be that adult, but at daycare or preschool, you may want to talk about the adults in the room that your child can go to for help. Naming the safe, responsible adults that your child can rely on will help her to go to an adult to try to solve a problem instead of heading straight to a meltdown.
Many adults, especially parents of young children, have a lot of difficulty truly listening to their children. Parents are often pulled in so many different directions that when a child is explaining a problem to their parent, the parent may not always be listening to the details. Pay close attention to your child when she is troubled, as this will be integral to your ability to help her to overcome her challenge and problem solve.
Children live in the present. If something is making a young child feel angry, sad, or frustrated, it is difficult for them to see an end to their hard feelings, and even more difficult for them to dig their way out of their frustration. Help your child to look to the future and plan. Ask questions like, “What toy can you play with next?” or “Can you think of a way of fixing your block tower?” to get your child out of the moment and thinking of ways to overcome their current difficulty.
Don’t underestimate the power of the “do-over’. If a child is having a hard time mastering a skill, or has made a mistake that she perceives as major, remind her that she can try again. This is also a great reminder that everyone makes mistakes, mistakes are natural, and mistakes can be fixed. This attitude is central to the type of resilience-building your child is working on.
And of course, give this process time. Not only will your child need to practice resilience and making it a part of her everyday life, but she will naturally get better at it as she gets older! Just reminding her that she can overcome difficulties will get her into the habit of trying to move past her challenges.