Girl learning to play basketball

9 simple ways to help your child build resilience

If your child resists trying new things, they’re not alone. Lots of children fear tackling unfamiliar activities.

So how can your child develop the courage to try new things? To keep going even when they might fail? How can they become more resilient?

Here are nine helpful tips to help kids tackle new experiences, develop new skills, and move past the fear.

1. Praise effort

Fear of failing is a key reason children resist trying new things. Your child may give up rather than risk embarrassment.

Guest post by Alexandra Eidens

Alexandra Eidens is the founder of Big Life Journal, an engaging resource to help kids develop a resilient growth mindset so they can face life’s challenges with confidence.

This is especially true when parents focus on results only. Children who learn that successful outcomes are all that matter will naturally be afraid of failure.

As parents, we can turn this around. Praise your child’s efforts and persistence—no matter the end result. Make comments like, “You worked really hard to learn to hit the ball,” or, “I love how you kept going and didn’t give up.”

Your child cannot always control the outcome, but they do have a say in how hard they try.

2. Keep an adventure journal

The benefits of journaling are clear: children who keep journals develop crucial writing and communication skills, and it can help improve mental health as well.

For risk-averse kids, journaling is even more impactful. Journals provide a safe space to release their worries, and a way to look back at how far they’ve come.

Encourage your child to start an adventure journal to document new experiences. Your child can write about their experiences of family hiking trips or learning to ride a bike, draw the trees they’ve climbed, or write the names of the new friends they’ve met in summer day camps or sports activities. Any new or different undertaking can be an adventure!

3. Show empathy

It can be frustrating when your child refuses to engage in new activities, especially when you see them missing out on the fun.

If your child’s resistance to new things upsets you, pause and take a few breaths. Recall moments when you’ve been nervous to try something unfamiliar, and how you felt. Use those experiences to connect with your child and show empathy.

Empathy requires us to see a situation through our child’s eyes. Try to remember how scary it can be for a child the first time they go down a tall slide, jump off a diving board, or ride a bike. Make comments like, “It’s okay to feel scared the first time you try something new. I’ve felt like that before too.”

Related read: How to teach your child to ride a bike

4. Don’t force them

There’s a difference between helping your child persevere and pushing them too hard. It can be tricky to tell the difference.

Know that activities that excite you aren’t necessarily motivating to your child. Consider what your child naturally enjoys. If they’re not into sports, then pushing them to join the soccer team will likely backfire.

Be sure to include your child in these important discussions. Work together to brainstorm a list of things they’d like to learn or get better at. Encourage them to choose one or two to pursue, and offer plenty of praise for the effort.

5. Foster creativity

Some children may seem more creative than others. But all children can develop their creativity.

There are many ways to bring more creativity into your child’s daily life. You might consider:

The act of creating means your child is focused on the process, not the outcome. Let them enjoy the moment, and go along for the ride!

Related read: Does your child want to give up? Cultivate a growth mindset

6. Let your child have a say

All parents want to raise confident children. To develop confidence, children must be free to explore their own ideas.

From an early age, allow your child to make choices (“Would you like to wear the green pants or the blue ones?”). Let them choose which activities to do today or what books they’d like you to read for them before you tuck them in.

When problems arise, ask your child to brainstorm solutions with you. Show them that their thoughts and opinions matter to the family.

“Kids have a brain in their head, and they have a sense of how they want their lives to work. Parents should start there and support that, instead of thinking we are supposed to make (our children) a certain way.”

-Clinical neuropsychologist Dr. William Stixrud,
author of The Self-Driven Child

7. Teach them to value mistakes

Failure can be tough to face. But it’s crucial to the learning process. Studies show that mistakes actually make our brains grow.

Model acceptance of your own mistakes. Talk about the time when you swung the bat and missed the baseball, or that time you kicked the soccer ball toward the wrong goal and accidentally scored one for the other team—and what you learned from the experience.

Explain to your child that the brain is like a muscle, and it gets stronger from taking on challenges. Don’t rescue them from moments of struggle or you’ll rob them of the opportunity to learn from them.

When your child recognizes mistakes and struggles as positive signs of growth and learning, they’ll be more likely to try something new.

8. Incorporate breaks

When your child is learning new skills, frustration may run high. Be sure to build in plenty of break time.

Brain breaks reduce stress and provide a much-needed change of focus. They can be active (wall push-ups, sock ball games, or jumping jacks) or relaxing (five deep breaths). Try to encourage your child to take a break before fatigue and frustration occur.

You can also consider adding a reward to break time. Your child might earn a sticker for reading a certain amount of minutes or finishing a specific assignment.

“Instead of diving right into a situation that is tough for him, the child approaches it bit by bit, gaining control with each step. One success breeds another.”

-Dr. Donna B. Pincus, in Psychology Today

9. Practice

If your child is fearful of a new situation or activity, have “dress rehearsals” at home to help him prepare. In a familiar environment, your child can practice and gain confidence.

Roleplay the new scenario with your child (meeting a new teacher, the first day at camp, or approaching a group to sit with at lunch). You can also play the role of your child to model these skills.

Remember: being brave isn’t the same as being fearless. Bravery means your child accepts uncomfortable emotions (including fear) and still perseveres to learn something new.

Talk through the steps needed when you start something new. Share how practicing a speech or difficult conversation beforehand makes you more comfortable and ready for the real thing.

Being brave takes practice!

Many children tend to avoid unfamiliar situations. But with these nine simple strategies, your child will be ready to tackle new activities and take on new challenges. Remember to focus on their effort and perseverance, and praise them for being brave!

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