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How to Talk to Your Child to Build Resilience
By Mary Beth Boylan, Ph.D.

The way we speak to our children throughout their developmental years matters and can help our children become more resilient as they mature. Here are a few suggestions for ways to phrase conversations with your child that will help them become resilient adults.

Compliment traits, not states. Instead of saying, “You aced that quiz – you’re so smart!” try, “I’m proud of you for working hard.” It’s natural for kids to see outcomes without connecting the dots to the processes that brought them about. As parents, we play a key role in showing our children that their actions matter and that their choices today affect what will happen tomorrow.

Help learn from mistakes. Always be specific when commenting on a child’s mistakes so they can learn from them. Point to the skill that needs to be used better rather than personal character traits. For example: say, “you might have rushed through this task. Next time, be sure to take your time.” versus, “you’re too distracted”.

Acknowledge emotions. Children crave validation and want to feel that they are being heard. Instead of saying, “deal with it!” say, “I hear you.” One of the challenges of parenthood is to acknowledge their emotions without giving in to their tantrums. By acknowledging your child’s emotions, you are building a trusting relationship and also modeling empathy and respect.

Listen to your child’s thoughts. Children are question machines! Instead of saying, “I don’t know.” ask, “What do you think?” Keep in mind that when your child asks you a question, it’s a clue as to what is on their mind. By turning the question around, you have the opportunity to get to know your child – and their inner workings – better. You just might be surprised what you learn!

Value perseverance. Has your child faced a situation that was difficult to overcome? Instead of “I’m glad that’s over!” say, “That was hard, but it was worth it.” As a parent, you’re naturally inclined to protect your child from harm. You also need to prepare them to handle adversity, so building resilience in your child from a young age will help them face down life’s challenges. One of the best ways you can help your child develop perseverance is by modeling it.

Try using these alternative phrases in conversations with your child. You may be surprised how impactful your words and actions are in building resilience in your child.

Dr. Boylan is the Program Director of the Watson Institute Friendship Academy, a special education school for children ages 5 to 21 with emotional and behavioral challenges as well as the Director of Psychological Services at Watson, providing outpatient mental and behavioral health programs for children up to the age of 21. For more information, visit www.thewatsoninstitute.org or call (412) 749-2889.

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