Employee & Community Health

Raising a healthy, resilient child

7/8/2019 by Dr. Angela Mattke

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As a parent, it can be difficult to stand back and let your child struggle at something. It can be even harder to let your child fail and not sweep in to save the day like the super hero you are. It's okay to not draw on your "Super Parent" powers that make everything better. By not paving the way for your child (think helicopter parenting), you might actually be helping them build important life skills. 

Allowing your child opportunities to experience frustration and failure is crucial to building their resilience. Resilience is when your child learns to work through everyday struggles or difficult circumstances and adapt and persevere in the face of challenges. 

Resilience is like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets. If children aren't given opportunities to exercise resilience in a supportive and loving environment, they're missing out on developing the key skills that will help them succeed at whatever life throws at them. 

To foster resilience, start by observing your child when they're faced with everyday challenges. How do they respond? Are they quick to cry, give up or ask for help? Or do they keep at it when things get tough? Some of your child's responses in these situations are related to their disposition and personality. 

Even babies can begin building their resiliency. When your infant is trying a new skill and getting frustrated, don't step in and do it for them. Instead, sit with them and encourage them to keep trying. 

Everyday life offers many opportunities to practice resiliency skills. As a parent, sometimes you need to slow down and let your toddler, child or teen try things on their own. For example: 

  • When your six year old is learning to buckle their seat belt, let them work through it, then praise them for their effort. 
  • When your preteen is experiencing drama with friends, don't rush in and call the other parent to get to the bottom of the situation. Encourage your child to work through it with their friend and give them the skills and support to do so. 

These key steps will help your child develop their resilience: 

  • Teach your child that decisions have consequences and whenever possible, involve your child in decision-making and let the natural consequences play out. 
  • Teach your child that failure is part of life. If your child learns to expect to fail at things sometimes, they'll be more willing to try new things. They'll start seeing failure as an opportunity to learn. 
  • Foster your child's character strengths. Everyone has strengths! Identify your child's and find ways to nurture them. 

If you're interested in learning more about resilience, read about it in chapter 17, "Raising a Resilient Child", of a new book from Mayo Clinic, Mayo Clinic's Guide to Raising a Healthy Child. You can buy it from Mayo, your local independent book store or favorite online retailer. 

Dr. Angela Mattke is a general pediatrician in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (CPAM) at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. She is also host of Mayo Clinic's interactive FacebookLive show called, #AskTheMayoMom, where she discusses and answers audience questions about common pediatric health topics. You can follow her on Twitter at @DrAngelaMattke. For more information about pediatric health topics, follow @mayoclinickids on Twitter.