Developing Resilience in Your Children

Written by Ryan Evans on March 1st, 2017

Seattle Seahawks coach extraordinaire Pete Carroll has identified one indispensible trait in football players: grit. Carroll considers this trait—also described as passionate perseverance or resilience—as important as athletic ability. If grit is as fundamental to success on the gridiron as speed and strength, it’s worth looking at further.

The Apostle Paul speaks about Resilience in the book of Romans, linking suffering to the virtue of resilience: “… suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…” (Romans 5:3-4). The word in Greek can be translated as “energetic resistance, steadfastness under pressure, and endurance in the face of trial.” James too tells us that the testing of our faith will develop perseverance and grow us into maturity (James 1:3-4).

Resilience can particularly be a challenge to develop in a child whose natural disposition typically tends toward victimization or toward skepticism about anything requiring commitment, tenacity, or sweat. As all parents know, some children are a bit more challenging than others. Here are several ideas to help develop resilience in your children, along with several things to avoid:

  • Emphasize hard work instead of natural ability – Avoid falling victim to the “attribution principle,” which is ascribing success to natural giftedness. Instead, look for opportunities to praise musical, athletic, or academic achievements not because of talent, but for the hard work and perseverance required for success.
  • Seek opportunities that require a long-term commitment – Making a commitment to a team or a group such as scouts teaches the value of endurance, particularly when a child doesn’t find it immediately rewarding. Conversely, allowing your child to make a commitment and then renege (e.g. joining a softball team and then quitting) creates a mindset that whenever something doesn’t go their way, the solution is to give up.
  • Ask your child: “What do you plan to do about this?” – Children naturally want others—especially their parents—to solve their problems. It’s much easier and convenient to provide the answers and solutions but much more effective to guide them and require them to take ownership by asking this key question.
  • Model hard providences as opportunities for God’s shaping – The Bible teaches that suffering produces endurance. When we “hang in there” during tough times, the result is molding and shaping that produces Godly character. If we’re honest, we all as modern Americans lack a context for real suffering. The closest many of our children come to “suffering” is a three-hour power outage and no internet. Even for adults, we often struggle to model resilience. When children see us faithfully enduring trials, they take note.

In his book, Resilience, author Eric Greitens writes, “The first step in building resilience is to take responsibility for who you are and for your life…The essence of responsibility is the acceptance of the consequences – good and bad – of your actions. You are not responsible for everything that happens to you. You are responsible for how you deal with what happens to you.” As our children develop attitudes of resilience, they are girded for life’s challenges and prepared to honor our Lord in spite of their circumstances.