7 Key Characteristics of Resilient Children

Sarah Mead

Sarah Mead

When asked about how they’ve reached the top of their field, many famous people say one thing: I’ve succeeded because I’ve failed over and over again.

JK Rowling’s first manuscript for Harry Potter was rejected 12 times before a publisher took a chance on her. Inventor Thomas Edison explained many times, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

In a classic Nike commercial, basketball great Michael Jordan talked about the thousands of times he let others down.

The Importance of Resilience

Success in life is never a simple path from A to B. Even if you do everything right, there will still be twists and turns along the way. The key to success is to view those bumps in the road as minor setbacks, not unsurmountable obstacles.

For someone to succeed, they need to have the resilience to bounce back from challenges and overcome failure. The question for parents then becomes, “How can I help my child become more resilient?”

We’ve found that resilient children have seven characteristics in common. The first step to helping your child become more resilient is recognizing which of these key traits your child already possesses. Then use that as a starting place to help your child develop the confidence to meet life’s challenges head-on.

Resilient Children Have the Following 7 Characteristics:

1. Competence

It’s easy to assume that “competence” simply refers to a child’s mastery of school materials, but in reality, there are many other ways children can build up their feelings of competence.

The key to helping children develop a feeling of competence is to give them opportunities to master specific skills or strengths. Luckily, there are plenty of opportunities for skill mastery both at school and at home. Start by giving your child a task that’s a challenge for them initially—assign a complicated chore, ask them to help with dinner and give them a dish to complete, or work with them as they try to master a set of spelling words. When they successfully complete the challenge, compliment them on their effort. Make sure you start small with challenges that your child can realistically accomplish at their stage of development. The sense of achievement they feel from successfully completing a challenge will convince them that they have the ability to meet new, harder challenges.

2. Confidence

At the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin, researchers found that higher confidence directly correlates with increased feelings of hope, efficacy, optimism and resilience. They discovered that confident students perform better in school and feel happier with their life. They’re also more likely to bounce back from challenges and overcome failure.

Feeling confident is incredibly important to helping children develop a sense of resilience. When children feel confident, they are more likely to take on new tasks, expand their social circle, take risks—and try again if that risk doesn’t pan out. When they fail at a task, confident children are more likely to fault their tactic than to believe that a task is beyond their capabilities.

To help your child develop confidence, focus on giving them specific praise that’s closely tied to their efforts, not their intelligence.

3. Connected (to the People Around Them)

Our sense of resilience is affected by the strength of our social connections. Resilient children often feel a strong bond with friends, siblings, parents and other family members, as well as teachers and other people in caregiver roles. They feel protected and believe that they can count on their network to be there for them if needed.

You can help your child develop resilience by being there for them when they face setbacks. Often children feel discouraged when they’re not immediately good at something—such as kicking a soccer ball. Keep encouraging them to try again, recognize their progress and tell them about a time when you experienced a similar setback. Psychologists have found that sharing stories helps people feel more connected to each other, and talking over different approaches they could try next time will help your child feel that you’re invested in their success.

4. (Secure in Their) Character

Character isn’t something that parents teach or don’t teach—children are actually born with a rudimentary sense of morality. In fact, recent studies from Yale University's Infant Cognition Center show that children as young as three months naturally show a strong preference for stuffed animals that act “nicely” over those who act “unkindly.” That means they naturally possess the instinct to do the “right” thing.

As a parent, you should focus on helping your child develop their natural instincts into an internal moral compass. Sometimes children get confused about what is “right” and need guidance. Other times, selfish instincts still overtake them and they must be corrected. By teaching them standards they should follow, you can help your child feel confident they’ll know how to act in in different situations.

5. (That They’re) Contributors

If you talk to resilient people in different fields, they all have one thing in common: they believe their actions make a difference. The scientist believes that the time he put in at the lab directly contributed to a breakthrough discovery. The point guard knows the time she stopped a breakaway kept the other team from scoring and gave her team an opportunity to tie the game.

You can help your child feel like a contributor by asking them about how their actions helped the group succeed. When children understand how and why their contributions matter, they invest more of themselves into an endeavor. They may play harder defense or ensure they are precise with their measurements. Even if something doesn’t work out, they know that their actions were important. They will push themselves to learn more and study harder, and they will develop more confidence as their work leads to more success.

6. (Able to) Cope

A child may appear confident, but only until something doesn’t go according to plan—then they fall apart. A truly resilient child is one who is able to manage their emotions when they face adversity (so they can keep working towards their goal). Resilient children start by facing their feelings about the situation and contain any disappointment, frustration or anger. Then they start thinking about the challenge not as a dead end, but as a stumbling block they can overcome.

You will face many defeats in your life, but never let yourself be defeated. – Maya Angelou

7. (In) Control

A child’s environment is the final factor that has a big impact on how confident they feel. When children have consistent caregivers, a predictable routine and clear boundaries from the adults in their life, they feel less stress and are more connected to the people around them. This develops their ability to cope with challenges that arise.

Give Your Child the Tools They Need to Succeed

Helping your child develop resilience is only one of the ways you can set your child up for success. If you’d like to learn more about how you can help prepare your child for their future, consider attending one of our upcoming parenting classes.

Parents as Partners is a special mini-series of workshops for parents who want to provide their children with a pathway to success. These parenting workshops are open to the public and are led by Whitby’s veteran Montessori and International Baccalaureate trained educators.

Join Whitby School for Parents as Partners workshops
Sarah Mead

Sarah Mead

Sarah Mead is the Director of Marketing & Communications for Whitby School. Sarah's mind is a stirring pot of thoughts and ideas on content marketing, blogging, photography, videography, storytelling, social media, and website optimization. Working at Whitby has inspired her to reeducate the world about education, and to spread the passion, wisdom and expertise of the school’s talented faculty and staff.