1. Pre-teens
  2. Development
  3. Social & emotional development

Resilience in teenagers: how to build it

9-15 years

When teenagers are resilient, they cope better during or after difficult situations. They ‘bounce back’ when things go wrong. Your child needs resilience to navigate life’s ups and downs, so building resilience is an important part of his development.

Resilience: what you need to know

Resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ during or after difficult times and get back to feeling as good as before.

It’s also the ability to adapt to difficult circumstances that you can’t change and keep on thriving. In fact, when you’re resilient, you can often learn from difficult situations.

Your child’s resilience can go up and down at different times. And your child might be better at bouncing back from some challenges than others.

All teenagers can build resilience, by developing attitudes like self-respect, social and organisational skills, and positive thinking habits. Your support is also a key building block for your child’s resilience.

You can’t always stop your child from experiencing problems or tough times. But you can play a big role in helping your child build resilience. Your child can also gain strength from other supportive adults, like grandparents, aunts, uncles or teachers. Friends and classmates can be great sources of support too. 

Why your child needs resilience

Your child needs resilience to bounce back from everyday challenges like arguments with friends, disappointing test results or sporting losses.

Some young people face more serious challenges like family breakdown, family illness or death, or bullying. And some have more challenges than others because of learning difficulties or disabilities, or because they have more anxious personalities. Resilience will help them with these challenges.

Resilience is more than just coping. When you’re resilient, you’re more prepared to seek new ways to overcome your challenges and achieve your goals. Although this might mean taking some risks, it also creates opportunities for success and greater self-confidence.

Personal values and attitudes for building resilience

Self-respect is a great building block for resilience.

Self-respect grows out of setting standards for behaviour. If your child has self-respect, she believes that she matters and should be treated respectfully by others. She’s also more likely to protect herself by avoiding risky behaviour and situations. A strong sense of self-respect will also help your child be less vulnerable to bullies and bullying.

Empathy, respect for others, kindness, fairness, honesty and cooperation are also linked to resilience. This includes showing care and concern for people who need support, accepting people’s differences, being friendly, not mistreating or bullying others, and taking responsibility for your actions.

If your child shows these attitudes and behaviour towards others, he’s more likely to get a positive response in return. This helps him feel good about himself.

Having a strong, loving relationship with you and staying connected with you are the basis for all these qualities and values in your child. If you show your child love and respect, she’ll be more likely to care for herself and others. 

Social skills for resilience

Social skills are another important building block for resilience. They include skills for making and keeping friends, sorting out conflict, and working well in teams or groups.

When your child has good relationships at school and gets involved in community groups, sports teams or arts activities, he has more chances to develop connections and a sense of belonging.

These social connections also mean that your child will probably have more people she trusts when she wants to talk about things that worry or upset her.

You might like to read more about teenage friendships and how to support them. Our articles on keeping teenagers active, finding extracurricular activities and getting teenagers into community activity also have lots of ideas to help your child make social connections.

Positive thinking habits for resilience

Resilience is about being realistic, thinking rationally, looking on the bright side, finding the positives, expecting things to go well and moving forward, even when things seem bad.

When your child is upset, you can help him keep things in perspective by focusing on facts and reality. For example, you could try gently asking, ‘Does this really matter as much as you think it does? On a scale from 1-10, how bad is it really?’

You can also help your child understand that a bad thing in one part of her life doesn’t mean everything is bad. For example, if your child gets a poor exam result, you could point out that it won’t stop her from playing weekend sport or going out with friends.

If your child is being hard on himself, you could suggest more helpful self-talk instead. For example, he might say something like ‘I’m going to die of embarrassment speaking in front of my class’. You could suggest alternatives like ‘Public speaking isn’t my favourite thing, but I can cope’, or ‘Public speaking isn’t my strength, but it’s good to try new challenges’.

Your child is more likely to feel positive if she can see that difficult times are a part of life, and that things will get better. It might just take longer than your child would like. You can help your child with this by talking about how you or people you know have gone through tough times.

Working with your child on solutions to problems can build resilience too. And having problem-solving strategies can help your child feel he has the power to deal with difficult situations and get through challenging times. 

It’s also important for your child to feel and talk through difficult emotions like anxiety, fear and anger. Facing difficult emotions will help your child grow stronger. With resilience your child will be able to ride out these adolescent ups and downs.

It’s also good for your child to have simple strategies for turning low moods into better ones. Here are some ideas:

  • Do things you enjoy or that help you relax, like watching a funny TV show or DVD or reading a good book.
  • Spend time with friends or support people.
  • Do something kind for someone else – for example, carrying the grocery shopping in from the car.
  • Look for the positive or funny side of a difficult situation. For example, a sprained ankle might mean missing sport on the weekend, but it gives you the chance to binge-watch your favourite TV series.
  • Do some physical activity, like playing sport or going for a vigorous walk.
  • Go over some good memories by looking through photographs.
You’re a role model for your child. Let her see and hear you being positive and optimistic. You can do this by thanking other people for their support, saying ’Things will get better soon and I can cope with this’, and expecting that good things are possible.

Skills for getting things done

Feeling confident, capable and ready to get things done are big parts of resilience. Important skills in this area are goal-setting, planning, being organised and self-disciplined, being prepared to work hard and being resourceful.

You can foster these skills in your child by helping him work out his specific strengths and limitations. Then you can encourage him to set goals that put his strengths into action, and that help him to focus on what he’s good at.

For example, if your child is good at singing or music, you could suggest she joins the school band, or even starts her own band. If she’s good with young children, you could suggest she looks into some babysitting work or coaching junior sport.

Supporting your child to take on new or extra responsibilities is a great way to build your child’s confidence and sense of what he can do. Examples might be a leadership role at school or a part-time job as he gets older.

Challenges are a normal part of life, and young people have to learn to cope with them by themselves. Let your child have a go at sorting out her own problems and fighting her own battles before you step in. Fumbles and even failures are part of the process.

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Last updated or reviewed
16-02-2018

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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