How to build resilience in your child | Patti Skelton-McGougan


It turns out resilience is an important mental health characteristic that helps adolescents and adults cope in the face of adversity or stress. In essence, resilience means being able to bounce back from difficult times and cope well with challenges.

Not all kids' circumstances are the same, nor can we make it so. Some kids are going to have more trauma and difficulty in life, and some are going to have more support. Adolescence is a point when mental health disorders often first arise, due in part to things that are out of anyone’s control. But adolescents who are resilient find ways to reduce the negative effects of stress on their lives and thrive despite difficult circumstances.

We've all been witness to the child who just seems to rise above it all. Whether it is being teased, overcoming a disability or having to deal with a less than supportive parent, these kids just don't seem to let it hold them back. While some of this tendency is part of a child’s predisposition, there are factors that adults may be able to influence — and with good reason. Adolescents who are resilient also may be better able to avoid risky behaviors, such as violence, substance use and adolescent pregnancy.

The nonprofit research center Child Trends, has identified a number of characteristics of adolescents that are associated with resilience. Choices made with younger children can help bolster these protective characteristics.

  • An appealing, sociable, easygoing disposition
  • Good thinking skills (“intelligence” as traditionally defined, but also judgment and social skills)
  • One or more talents (things a person does really well)
  • Belief in oneself and trust in one’s ability to make decisions
  • Religiosity or spirituality and strong internal values
  • Getting regular physical exercise, avoiding substance abuse and practicing relaxation techniques
  • Caring adults in their lives

Adolescents who have positive relationships with adults outside their families feel more supported, are more socially expressive, and are less likely to be depressed than are adolescents who lack such relationships. Depression is the number one mental health issue facing youth today.

As parents, or influential adults, you can support a child’s participation in healthy activities like academics, sports and social pastimes. Such participation helps relieve stress, as well as helps kids develop stress management and conflict resolution skills. Mentor programs are excellent ways to reach out to youth in this way.

Perhaps most importantly, as parents we can attend to our own emotional wellbeing – if we are reluctant to seek help for our mental health problems, it reinforces the mental health stigma and reduces the chances a teen will seek help. We need to shift this paradigm from hopelessness to empowerment.

Without the promise of a better life, individuals and families affected by mental health and addiction remain trapped in a vicious cycle, with innumerable costs to themselves, their communities, and to the nation.


Patti Skelton-McGougan is executive director of Youth Eastside Services. For more information, call 425-747-4937 or go to www.youtheastsideservices.org.

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