5 Characteristics of Highly Resilient Kids, According to a Pediatric Psychologist

characteristics of resilient kids

There are so many skills we want our children to have. We start with the basics, such as brushing their teeth, eating somewhat healthy meals and doing their homework. But while hygiene and academic skills are important, the stuff that is often missed and even ignored goes much deeper and helps with overall life satisfaction. What is it? It’s resilience!

I’m a pediatric psychologist, and here are five characteristics I’ve noticed in resilient kids, along with the best ways to nurture them.

1. They have self-compassion

They understand life is imperfect, and they don’t beat themselves up about it, treating themselves kindly without judgment or criticism. Think: A 10-year-old who loses a baseball game and feels sad, but recognizes she played well and focuses on those moments of triumph (rather than all the times in the game when she could have played better). As a parent, you can nurture this kind of self-compassion by empathizing with your child when things don’t go as planned. Do this by identifying the feeling they are experiencing (“I can see that you’re feeling upset. Losing the game was disappointing, wasn’t it? Especially because you played so hard and did your best.”). Then, validate that experience. (“Many of your teammates feel disappointed by the loss too, but are also happy they played their heart out.”) Normalize it. Help them feel seen and heard, while being comforted. (“When I lost that tennis match last week, I experienced feelings of disappointment too. But I learned from my mistakes and celebrated my successes. I’m so proud of you. I hope you’re proud of you too.”)

2. They are given opportunities to struggle and learn strength

As a caring parent, it’s easy to jump in and rescue our children when they struggle. But doing this actually gives them the message, “I’m too weak to handle this” or “Mom doesn’t trust that I can figure this out on my own.” Either way, it’s a message that sticks with them, and it’s easily replayed when things get tough again. They feel helpless, out of control and will quickly look to you to rescue them. Scenario: Your 15 year-old daughter’s best friend just ended their friendship. You want to call or text the friend and the friend’s mom to make things right and make your daughter feel better. Nope! Don’t do it. Instead, allow her to vent and encourage her to grieve. Communicate to her that you know she has what it takes to figure out the next steps and that you will be by her side while she does this. Now, this doesn’t mean we should always let our kids fend for themselves. It just means children who are resilient learn they have what it takes inside themselves.

3. They have problem-solving skills

When the going gets tough, the tough get problem-solving—rather than complaining, worrying, or avoiding unpleasantness. Children who are resilient understand this, and they understand that even when they’re in a situation that is miserable, there are ways to improve it, adapt to it or see it through a different lens. Say, for instance, your child was looking forward to an amazing summer vacation. Then, COVID happened. As a resilient child, they will experience and express disappointment. Then, will tap into some creativity and find a new and creative way to have a meaningful and fun vacation. Is the situation disappointing? Yes. But, instead of moping around, a resilient kid sees solutions rather than problems.

4. They don’t compare themselves to others

Resilient children understand that social comparisons only lead to two things: feeling superior or feeling like a nobody. (A lose-lose situation.) But if we can teach our children to celebrate others’ achievements, while avoiding comparisons, they’ll be better able to bounce back when challenges emerge. A resilient child might say something like, “Wow. My friend and I competed in the spelling bee and he earned first place and I got fourth. I’m so proud of him!”

5. They have a well-developed emotional vocabulary

Children who are resilient and adaptive can identify, label and express their feelings, understanding that when we articulate our internal struggles, we can move toward a resolution while remaining connected with others. For instance, rather than throwing a fit when learning about a party (or Zoom call) they weren’t invited to, a resilient child might say, “I really felt sad about not being invited. I don’t know why that happened! I’ll reach out to Eddie ask, because I’d really like to be invited next time.” Articulation of feelings can help with meaningful social connection and ultimately lead to excellent problem-solving skills.

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart is a married mom of 2, living in San Antonio. She is a pediatric psychologist and parent coach.