Curious to know why some kids persevere while others don’t? Discover the 5 characteristics of a resilient child and what gritty kids do differently.
My eight-year-old had done a really neat trick with a blob of slime (yes, slime). He had stretched it out to a thin layer, held it in front of his face, then blew on it to make a “bubble.” It looked exactly how bubble gum would look when you blow on it.
Not surprisingly, one of my five-year-old twins was intrigued. So much so that he decided he wanted to try the trick as well.
At that point, I was already cringing inside. In truth, I didn’t think he’d be able to get it right, what with being younger and all. And the last thing I wanted was for him to feel disappointed, much less frustrated.
His first few tries to blow a similar slime bubble only confirmed my expectations: his bubble was nowhere as good as his older brother’s. He then took his slime to the kitchen where I actually hoped he’d call it a day, preferably before he realized how difficult a task it was to do.
But thank goodness I never said anything or revealed what I was thinking. Because the next thing I knew, he ran out of the kitchen, slime in hand, and said, “Look mama—I did it!” And boy, did he do it. Despite my initial doubts, my little boy proved me wrong.
5 characteristics of a resilient child
You have to hand it to kids who don’t seem unfettered by challenges. Where one bad moment isn’t enough to ruin the rest of the day, or when they can look at their failures and not give a hoot.
Sure, all kids have thrown a fit when they couldn’t do something right, especially after several tries. But I’ve found that resilient kids above all have a knack for persevering despite the odds against them.
What characteristics do resilient kids have that sets them apart? What do they do differently from other kids, or even adults?
Take a look at these five characteristics of a resilient child, and what your little one is doing differently from the rest:
1. Resilient kids have a growth mindset
It’s disheartening to see kids who crumble because they got an answer wrong or they can’t make a basket or their drawing just isn’t turning out right. And truth be told, all kids will experience this at one point or another. I know I’ve done my fair share of consoling.
But watch resilient kids and you’ll see they tend to dust themselves off and move on.
This isn’t to say that the initial failure was pleasant, but they also don’t identify with it as a person. They don’t think, “This drawing was horrible—that must mean I’m a horrible artist.” No, instead they tell themselves, “This drawing was horrible—I guess I can practice some more.”
With grit and tenacity, they know that they can change their behavior, habits, and choices, and get different results. While resilient kids know that failure is inevitable, they don’t let it stop them, either.
2. Resilient kids have deep, genuine connections to others
From everyday stress to more serious traumas, resilient kids are better able to cope with life’s challenges because they have a deep connection to others. For most kids, this means a solid bond with their parents, but other parent-substitutes can do the job as well, from grandparents to teachers.
What is it about connection that leads to resilience?
The consistency and reliability of a strong relationship helps kids weather challenges they face. They might have had a fight with a friend at school, but if their family life at home is stable and predictable, it’s easier to see the fight as something they can get through.
Unconditional love also reassures kids that they themselves are fine, and that any setbacks they face aren’t necessarily a reflection of who they are.
3. Resilient kids feel competent
Confident and willing to try new things, resilient kids stretch themselves and are more likely to take risks and step outside of their comfort zones.
If they happen to fail, they don’t tie the failure to their identities—instead, they change course, knowing they can always try again. They tell themselves stories, or personal narratives, to boost themselves up and go at it again.
But if they happen to succeed, then that only adds to their mastery and competence, that feeling of “Yes, I can do this!”
And on it cycles, as they try even more challenges and step further into new experiences.
4. Resilient kids have a positive outlook
Let’s say you and your child were planning to walk to the neighborhood park and play on the playground. Except once you arrived, it turned out that the entire playground area was closed off for construction.
As a backup plan, the two of you decide to simply walk around the block and explore the area. “Well, at least it’s still a nice day!” she later comments.
Resilient kids have an uncanny way of having a positive outlook, even in the face of hassles, stress, and yes, a change of plans. They’re more likely to “wing it” and be willing to go along with whatever happens, because few things can make them feel down.
5. Resilient kids are creative
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One of the reasons that challenges, mistakes, and failures serve us well is because it forces us to be creative. And this is none more true than with resilient kids. They’re less willing to admit defeat and would rather go above and beyond to find creative ways to do well.
Let’s say you and your child are waiting in line at the post office, and just as luck would have it, the line is moving slowly. Rather than whine or complain, he instead finds creative ways to keep himself entertained, to keep from succumbing to the boredom that he would otherwise feel.
Whether waiting in long lines, falling off the monkey bars, or not getting a toy he wanted, a resilient child doesn’t give up so quickly. Instead, he’ll look for ways to overcome the situation, from playing a game in line to gripping the bars a different way.
Read The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed by Jessica Lahey
To help your child thrive and excel, encourage the characteristics of a resilient child that will serve him well.
Resilient kids have a growth mindset and understand that effort, and not an innate ability, is what helps them do well. They feel strong connections with others and rely on consistent routines to better weather changes that happen in life.
Resilient kids feel competent and are more willing to try new things and take risks, and tend to have a positive outlook on life, regardless of the obstacles they face. And finally, resilient kids find creative ways to overcome these obstacles, whether big or small.
Who knew that blowing slime bubbles would remind me of the importance of encouraging resilience in my kids? But the confidence and joy my son felt at having made the perfect slime bubble could only have stemmed from the resilience that encouraged him to keep trying.
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Tell me in the comments: Which characteristics of a resilient child do you nurture the most in your kids?