by Lou Sowers, Ph.D.


When challenges arise for our children, we often spend a lot of time focusing on what is wrong. While it is important to determine if and when problems exist and why, it is also important to keep in mind that certain traits or behaviors are more predictive of success regardless of the challenges that children and families may encounter. The field of study that focuses on why some kids find success in life while others tend to struggle is generally defined as resiliency research. Many longitudinal studies have been completed over the past 50 years that reveal much about how we can help our children find success. Some of the more pertinent findings are included below.


All kids need to feel connected to peers and adults. Spend lots of time together and figure out where they find their joy. Schedule in regular time to do things together and don't leave relationship time to chance. Kids who struggle in the area of relationships will need more help and support from you, they will look to you as a mentor, and they easily become lost when your relationship is out of sync. Much like being lost in the woods and not having a compass or knowing how to use it. Kids who feel safe and secure in their relationship with their parents will be more likely to embrace life's challenges, solve problems, ask for help, and find success and happiness.


Make sure that your kid is involved in developmentally appropriate activities. These activities should tap into their interests, but should also encourage them to push beyond their comfort zones. In my experience, confidence and competency does not come easily. It requires hard work and perseverance. These resilient traits also come from finding passion in an area of interest such as music, art, sports, science, math, drama, and literature. While many of these areas are tapped into by school systems, many kids benefit from participating in these activities during after school hours and that may make it easier for you to participate as well. It is also important to keep an eye on fun and don't let any one activity become all-consuming or your child might make the mistake of thinking that what they do is more important than who they are. While we live in an increasingly competitive world, we can easily lose sight of the importance of developing collaborative relationships with others that are grounded in a passion for making the world a better place to live.


Adults who oversee youth activities are important role models and teach a lot simply by doing what they do and by being who they are. Pairing something that your kid is interested in with other kids who have similar interests can create a bridge between activities and friendships. Keep in mind that quality of relationships is more important than quantity. Just one friend can make all the difference.


Learning to give to others is also essential to resiliency later in life. Recognizing that we are part of something larger or more important than ourselves, promotes a sense of connectedness. Kids who feel connected to their family, peers, and community and who feel like they have something to contribute to the world will develop a sense of purpose and ultimately have a better sense of their own self-worth. Constructing a way for kids to contribute to their family and community should be cultivated early. Give your kids the gift of responsibility and they will become more responsible.


Developing effective problem solving skills emerges consistently in the resiliency research. An essential component to a successful and fulfilling life includes learning how to confront challenges and how to overcome them. Teach your kid to embrace challenges, mistakes, and failures. See each failure as an opportunity and don't try to protect your kids from these important teaching experiences. Give your kid room to fail and when necessary intervene, dissect what happened, and provide them with options to resolve the problem. Kids who learn at a young age to confront challenges and resolve conflict in a nonviolent manner will be more successful and happier throughout life.


As a parent, what you do is far more important than what you say. As a result, you need to model conflict resolution for your kids. Some researchers argue that violence exposure has become epidemic in our society. As parents, we need to balance these messages of violence with messages promoting peace that is created through effective problem solving. As parents, we need to model civility and kindness in all that we do.


Research tells us that learning to be a strong reader by fourth grade is critical to school and future success. These days with television, computer games and video games, basic reading practices are facing more competition than ever. From the moment of birth, parents should decrease the TV factor as much as possible. Parents need to fight hard for their relationship with their kids and daily reading habits are one of the most successful ways to accomplish this task. The trick involves reading together consistently and limiting the competition (television sets, computer games and video games).


Additionally, early identification of, and intervention for, reading problems is critical. Kids who don't read well tend to struggle more in school, become discouraged more as they get older, lose confidence, and ultimately find less success in life's pursuits.


Constructing a vision for the future tends to be an important focus for teenagers. Often mixing interests, hobbies and other successful activities together can help to create this vision and help kids to begin making their transition into adulthood. While most teenagers have strong relationships with their parents, these relationships will be tested during adolescence and good work early in development is much like having money in the bank for a rainy day. Parents and kids who identify and manage conflict well typically understand that some conflict during late adolescence is to be expected and is a natural part of the transition toward independence.


It is also important to keep in mind that it is never too late to start building resilience. Don't waste your effort and energy thinking about what should have happened. Focus on what can happen, stay positive, and also tend to your relationship with your children no matter how old they are or what happens. Live your life well and they will too.