Nurturing Resilience in Children: A Guide to Embracing Mistakes and Learning from Them

Building resilience in children has become more critical than ever before. With the increasing complexity of challenges youth face, ranging from academic pressures to societal changes, fostering resilience equips children with the tools to navigate these uncertainties and emerge stronger. Resilience is not just about bouncing back from setbacks; it’s about adapting, learning, and thriving in the face of adversity.

But how can you do that as a parent?

1. Modeling Learning from Mistakes:

First and foremost, children learn by observing and imitating their parents’ behavior. As a parent, it is important to model resilience and a growth mindset by openly acknowledging and learning from your own mistakes. Share stories of how you overcame challenges and emphasize the lessons learned from those experiences. By demonstrating that mistakes are a natural part of life and can be opportunities for growth, you provide a valuable example for your child.

While it’s good to tell your children personal stories that have an ideal conclusion, don’t be afraid to comment on mistakes you are making now (taking into consideration age-appropriateness, of course). Some parents fear that by admitting to mistakes their children will see them differently, love or respect them less. However, consider the expectation you are setting for yourself to be a “perfect” parent. As my dad says, “Parents have the right to be wrong.” Being wrong and making mistakes does not mean you are a “bad” parent – it means you are human and by admitting to those mistakes it means you are more likely to work through them.

2. Embrace Mistakes, Take Risks, and Lean into Challenges:

Encourage your children to be willing to make mistakes, take risks, and embrace challenges. In the children’s book What to Do when Mistakes Make You Quake, authors Freeland and Toner use the metaphor of explorers to talk about taking risks. They ask how an explorer could ever find new land if they aren’t willing to explore and inevitably not find things right away. They couldn’t, of course! Many children and teens become so paralyzed by the idea of failing that they never even start. For us adults, we sometimes can get into analysis paralysis. It’s tragic to think of all of the missed opportunities of these bright and creative minds.

Help your children understand that mistakes are part of the learning process and provide valuable opportunities for growth. By fostering a safe and supportive environment, children will feel more comfortable stepping outside their comfort zones and exploring new experiences. Emphasize that their worth is not defined by perfection but rather by their efforts, perseverance, and resilience.

3. Regulate Emotions with “Name it to Tame It” and “Connect then Redirect”

A central component of resilience is regulating emotions. Regulation does not mean having no emotions; it means that when emotions inevitably arise, we know how to tolerate them, sit with them, be curious about them, and continue to choose what matters most.

Teach your children how to regulate their emotions effectively to activate their “upstairs brain” – the thinking and problem-solving part of the brain. Daniel Siegel’s “Name it to Tame It” technique involves helping children identify and label their emotions when faced with challenges or mistakes. By acknowledging and validating their feelings, you can guide them towards self-regulation and thoughtful decision-making.

The “Connect then Redirect” approach emphasizes the importance of empathy and connection before redirecting behavior. By empathizing with your child’s emotions and redirecting their attention to alternative choices, you can foster emotional intelligence and resilience.

4. Embrace a Growth Mindset:

Growth mindset is the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed through effort rather than being fixed traits. This belief redefines what it means to fail. For many children, failure seems to reflect back on them as a person – I have failed, therefore I am a failure. With growth mindset, however, failure just means that you are learning and growing your brain. The more challenging something is, the more opportunity there is for growth. It says nothing about you as a person. Without the threat of being defined in a permanent way, children develop a more positive attitude towards learning, embrace challenges and persist through setbacks.

Encourage your child to adopt a growth mindset by changing their perspective on challenges and mistakes. Help them understand that intelligence and abilities can be developed through effort, practice, and learning from mistakes. Encourage them to view setbacks as opportunities for growth, emphasizing that the process of learning is just as important as the end result. By cultivating a growth mindset, children develop resilience and become more open to taking on new challenges.

If you aren’t yet familiar with Carol Dweck’s growth mindset research, I would recommend setting a goal to look into it this week.

5. Know Your Circle of Control:

Help your child understand what is within their circle of control. Teach them to differentiate between things they can control, such as their own actions, attitudes, and efforts, and things outside their control, such as the opinions and actions of others or unexpected events. Encourage them to focus their energy and attention on what they can control, empowering them to take ownership of their responses and actions.

Guide your child in developing problem-solving skills. Teach them to analyze a situation, identify the aspects within their control, and brainstorm potential solutions. Children can often be more skilled than you realize at coming up with potential solutions. Show them you trust them by helping them weigh the pros and cons of their decisions and then decide for themselves. Encourage them to take proactive steps toward resolving issues rather than feeling helpless or dwelling on what went wrong.

6. Increase Connection with Others:

Strong connections and a supportive community are vital for building resilience in children. Remind them that they do not have to do everything on their own. Encourage your child to seek support from friends, family, teachers, and other trusted individuals during challenging times. Especially when children become anxious or overwhelmed, it is important to remind them of the resources available within their community.  

Foster a sense of belonging and encourage them to engage in activities and organizations that align with their interests. Help them find their tribe. By nurturing meaningful connections, children develop a support system that bolsters their resilience and provides strength during difficult periods.

7. Find Meaning through Storytelling:

When I was working with survivors of stroke, traumatic brain injury, and severe spinal cord injury, I discovered the power of storytelling. Often when I met with newly admitted patients, they were unsure of how they would live following a life-altering injury. Sometimes I felt inspired to share stories of others who had gone through rehabilitation (with permission, of course) and the challenges and triumphs they experienced. Many times, when they were getting ready to go home, they shared how much they held on to those stories and how those stories helped them imagine their own version of recovery.

Storytelling has the power to inspire and teach valuable life lessons. Help your children connect with the strength and wisdom of stories from the past, whether from historical figures, fictional characters, or family experiences. Share stories of resilience, courage, and learning from mistakes and hardship to instill hope and provide examples of overcoming adversity. By learning from the experiences of others, children can develop a broader perspective and find meaning in their own journeys.

Conclusion:

Building resilience in children and fostering the ability to learn from mistakes is a lifelong gift. You can teach your children how to respond to big feelings, problem solve effectively, accept what they can’t control, turn to their community for support, and learn from the stories of those who have come before. Embrace the journey of learning together and remember that resilience is a skill that can be nurtured and developed over time.