Helping Your Child Build Inner Strength
What Is Inner Strength?
Inner strength, often called "resilience," is the ability to cope with the stressful situations that life throws at us.
Building inner strength begins with simple actions or thoughts that your child practices, such as planning for what to do next and learning to accept change. Inner strength can help a child face problems. Children who are resilient:
- Are more likely to grow into healthy, happy adults, even in the face of poverty, divorce, or family tragedy.
- Are better able to stand up to peer pressure so they can avoid using drugs, drinking alcohol, and smoking.
- Are better able to resist messages in the media that tell them to be or look a certain way.
- Feel confident when meeting new people.
- Like to do nice things for others.
- Are loving and lovable.
- Are optimistic about life.
Children often surprise us with how resilient they are. But there is much you can do as a parent to help your young child or your teenager grow stronger.
By working to develop a child's inner strength, you are giving that child the emotional and mental tools needed to stay healthy and happy throughout life.
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What Gives a Child Inner Strength?
Experts say that the single most important thing that gives children inner strength is having parents or other adults who are positive and nurturing.
Other things that help include:
- Cognitive skills, such as concentration, memory, and logical thinking.
- Social skills, such as behaving properly, showing love, and sharing.
- A stable environment with rules and boundaries.
- Opportunities to contribute.
- Being listened to.
How Can You Help Children Build Inner Strength?
The single most important thing you can do to help your children is to show that you love them no matter what.
Knowing that you are close by and available gives your children a sense of security. Although your children's world is expanding, you remain their primary influence.
Always remember that you are a role model. Your children learn by watching you. So be sure that your actions and behaviors teach them how to:
- Show love and affection.
- Control anger.
- Work with other people rather than against them.
- Stay calm.
- Look forward to tomorrow.
- Express feelings.
- Be brave.
Safety and security
To build inner strength, children need to feel loved and safe. They need a family that is close, that spends regular time together, and that offers a safe haven as they grow.
- Make sure that your child feels safe . Your child is more likely to feel safe and secure if you are dependable, consistent, respectful, and responsive. These qualities are especially important for parents of preschool children, because these children are gaining a basic sense of trust in themselves and in the important people in their lives.
- Encourage safe exploration . Children need to explore. Children who explore learn new skills and how to solve problems. They learn that actions have consequences, and that causes have effects. Offer a variety of things to play with, read, create, and build. It might be hard, but try not to limit your child because of safety fears. Instead, do what you can to keep the child safe as he or she explores the world.
- Help your child build social skills . Teach your child by showing your acceptance of others and not gossiping or saying mean things about other people.
- Provide peer contact . Playing with other children even 1 day a week gives children opportunities to learn and practice important social, emotional, and language skills. Children learn to share, cooperate, and negotiate as they interact with their peers. Around age 9, many children successfully form close friendships. Forming these relationships helps children learn sensitivity to the feelings of others.
Confidence and independence
- Encourage independence . Children learn a sense of independence by practicing skills and doing things for themselves, such as getting dressed or brushing their teeth. Children who are not allowed to perform tasks on their own get the message that they are not capable.
- Help your child build self-esteem . Parents have the greatest influence on a child's belief about himself or herself. Letting children know that they belong, are doing well, and are contributing can help them build healthy self-esteem.
- Reduce stress . Teach your child how to manage stress. Controlling stress increases resilience.
- Deal with fears . Understand that your child may become extremely interested in scary subjects or images as a way to overcome them. Help your child as much as you can by answering questions and providing reassurance as needed.
- Recognize and develop special talents . To build healthy self-esteem, all children need to feel that they can do at least one thing very well. Pay attention to what your children like to do. Help them develop those skills, or find out where they can learn more.
- Build thinking skills. One way to help your child build thinking and reasoning skills is to get involved in your child's school. Volunteer if possible, work on having good relationships with teachers and other staff members, and show your interest in what your child is learning.
Caring about other people
Empathy is an important part of building inner strength. It means that a child can recognize and appreciate how others are feeling. It means that a child cares when others feel bad and that the child wants to help them.
You can help your child learn empathy by demonstrating it in your own life and talking with your child about it.
- Volunteering. Do volunteer work. If you can, take your child with you.
- Sharing. Teach your child the importance of sharing.
- Helping. Let your child help you with household chores, and show how happy it makes you to have help.
Helping others can help children learn that they have the power to make others feel better.
Self-control and teaching your child what's right
- Set limits . Setting limits for your children shows them that you love and care about them. Make sure that your rules are reasonable and that your children understand them. And follow through on any consequences you have established for failing to follow rules.
- Use good discipline techniques . Discipline is the teaching of polite and appropriate behavior. Effective parenting techniques encourage your child's sense of responsibility, nurture self-esteem, and strengthen your parent–child relationship.
- Teach self-control . Children learn by example. Teach appropriate behavior. Avoid physical punishment for behavior that is not appropriate.
How Can You Help Teens Build Inner Strength?
It often seems like teenagers never listen, but they do. That's why it's so important to remember that you are still the primary role model, even as your child grows older.
The single most important thing you can do to help your teen is to show that you love him or her no matter what.
Teenagers may be growing up, but they still need to:
- Feel safe and loved.
- Learn social skills.
- Learn to handle stress.
- Discover and develop their special talents.
Help your teen learn about important issues and be prepared for increasing responsibilities. Give teens freedom to figure things out in their own way within the boundaries you have set. Parents walk a fine line between respecting a teen's need for independence and privacy and making sure that he or she does not make serious mistakes.
- Help your child learn more mature ways of thinking . Let your teen make as many of his or her own decisions as possible. This includes involving your teen in setting household rules and schedules. Consider giving an allowance to help teach your child about financial responsibility.
- Help your child learn how to bounce back after setbacks. After acknowledging the hurt or disappointment your teen may feel, encourage him or her to view setbacks as opportunities for growth, learning, and perseverance. Ask your teen what, if anything, he or she could have done differently and how, in a similar situation in the future, things could be handled better.
- Spend time with your teen. Make time in your schedule for you and your teen to do something together or just talk.
- Address problems and concerns . Build trust gradually so your teen will feel safe talking with you about sensitive subjects. Knowing when and how to interfere in a teen's life is a major ongoing challenge of parenthood.
- Encourage community service. Both your teen and community members are helped when your teen volunteers. Your teen gets the chance to explore how he or she connects with others. While helping peers, adults, and other people, your teen can gain new skills and new ways of looking at things.
- Offer strategies to avoid tobacco, drugs, and alcohol . Set firm, fair, and consistent limits for your teen. Help him or her understand the immediate and long-lasting results of substance use, such as falling grades and poor health during adulthood. Practice how to respond when a harmful substance is offered.
What Barriers Can Affect Inner Strength?
Research shows that some children are more likely to have problems building inner strength. They may have risk factors, such as being in certain situations, having certain medical conditions, or having certain personalities, that make it harder for them to be resilient. But the more parents understand about these risk factors, the better they will be able to help their children learn how to cope.
Internal risk factors
Internal risk factors are part of a child's personality or health history. Examples include:
- Concentration problems.
- Problems with learning.
- Serious illness.
External risk factors
External risk factors are in the family, schools, and community. Examples include:
- Parents with severe marital problems.
- Remarriage of parents.
- Moving to a new town.
- Overcrowded classrooms.
- High crime rate in the neighborhood.
A counselor or therapist can help you and your child learn healthy ways to cope with stress.
- Growth and Development, Ages 11 to 14 Years
- Growth and Development, Ages 6 to 10 Years
- Healthy Habits for Kids
- Growth and Development, Ages 12 to 24 Months
- Growth and Development, Ages 1 to 12 Months
- Depression in Children and Teens
- Growth and Development, Ages 2 to 5 Years
- Building Resilience
- Growth and Development, Ages 15 to 18 Years
- Helping Kids Handle Peer Pressure
- Self-Esteem, Ages 6 to 10
Other Works Consulted
- American Academy of Pediatrics (2013). Building resilience in children. Available online: http://www.healthychildren.org/english/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/pages/Building-Resilience-in-Children.aspx.
- American Psychological Association (2011). Resilience Guide for Parents and Teachers. Available online: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/resilience.aspx#.
Current as of: December 16, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine