Developing Problem-Solving Skills to Build Resilience

Kate Widener, College Guidance & Assistant Upper School Director

Developing Problem-Solving Skills to Build Resilience

by Kate Widener, College Guidance & Assistant Upper School Director

All kids encounter stress of varying degrees as they grow. Despite their best efforts, parents can’t protect their children from obstacles. Kids get sick, move to new neighborhoods, encounter bullies, take tests, cope with grief, lose friends, and deal with divorce- just to name a few. These obstacles might seem small in the eyes of an adult, but they feel large and all-consuming to kids.  

By building resilience, children are capable of working through challenges and coping with stress.  Resilience is the ability to bounce back from stress, adversity, failure, challenges or even trauma. It’s not something that kids either have or don’t have; it’s a skill that kids develop as they grow. 

There are many ways we can help kids build resilience both at school and at home.  At Sparhawk we teach students to solve problems independently. Kids need to experience discomfort so that they can learn to work through it and develop their own problem-solving skills. Without this skill-set in place, kids will experience anxiety and shut down in the face of adversity.

Here are additional ways we can help children build resilience:

  • Build a Strong Emotional Connection by spending 1-1 time with your kids: In this busy world this is a lot easier said than done but even setting aside 10 minutes from the hustle to talk about your days, or look through the work your kid may have brought home can go a long way in connecting.
  • Promote Healthy Risk-Taking: What’s a healthy risk? Something that pushes a child to go outside of their comfort zone, but results in very little harm if they are unsuccessful. Examples include trying a new sport, participating in the school play, or striking up a conversation with a shy peer. When kids avoid risk, they internalize the message that they aren’t strong enough to handle challenges. When kids embrace risks, they learn to push themselves.
  • Resist the Urge to Fix It and Ask Questions Instead: When kids come to parents to solve their problems, the natural response is to lecture or explain. A better strategy is to ask questions. By bouncing the problem back to the child with questions, the parent helps the child think through the issue and come up with solutions.
  • Teach Problem-Solving Skills: We all need help sometimes, and it’s important for kids to know they have help. By brainstorming solutions with kids, parents engage in the process of solving problems. Encourage kids to come up with a list of ideas and weigh the pros and cons of each one.
  • Embrace Mistakes—Theirs and Yours: Failure avoiders lack resilience. In fact, failure avoiders tend to be highly anxious kids. When parents focus on end results, kids get caught up in the pass/fail cycle. They either succeed or they don’t. This causes risk avoidance. Embracing mistakes (your own included) helps promote a growth mindset and gives kids the message that mistakes help them learn. It can be helpful to talk about a mistake you made and how you recovered from it.
  • Promote the Bright Side—Every Experience Has One: Optimism and resiliency go hand in hand. Some kids may appear more naturally optimistic than others, but optimism can be nurtured. If you have a mini pessimist on your hands, acknowledge the feelings that lead to pessimistic thinking and teach your child to reframe his thoughts to find the positive.
  • Go Outside: Exercise helps strengthen the brain and make it more resilient to stress and adversity. While team sports are the most popular method of consistent exercise for kids, all kids really need is time spent outdoors engaging in a physical activity.

Resilience helps kids navigate these stressful situations. When kids have the skills and the confidence to confront and work through their problems, they learn that they have what it takes to confront difficult issues. The more they bounce back on their own, the more they internalize the message that they are strong and capable!