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How To Build Your Teen’s Resilience: What To Say And Do

None of us want our kids to fall apart at the first sign of trouble. Whether it’s a poor grade at school now or a romantic breakup, illness, or financial trouble later, we want our kids to be able to handle what life throws at them. But how?

If your teen isn’t resilient now, you can help. Here’s what you can do.

5 Ways to Help a Teenager Handle a Setback:

1. Reframe.

Tame self-criticism and reframe negative thoughts by incorporating the word “yet” into statements. For example, when a teen says, “I don’t have any friends in drama club,” they can reframe the statement to “I don’t have any friends in drama club yet.”

2. Encourage connection.

Connection to others and support from the larger community will help your teen build confidence and recover more easily from hardship and failure. Whether your teen is connected to their family members, school, faith group, sports team, club, or peers, connection to others provides support during times of adversity.

3. Share personal experience.

Discuss your own conflicts and problem-solve out loud as you seek solutions. Your teen is listening and can learn from your process. Don’t wait for your teen to mess up to tell them about the time you messed up. Share anecdotes of past failures and how you bounced back to illustrate “how we are all uneven, we all fall down, and the measure of us as human beings is that we learn to stand up stronger. And we learn to celebrate our unevenness,” says Ginsburg.

4. Watch your language.

Don’t minimize your teen’s feelings. If you say, “This isn’t a big deal—just get over it,” your teen will doubt their own emotions. Instead try, “Wow, this is tough. I have faith you’re going to get through it. I’ll be here with you. How can I support you? What are your plans?”

5. Consider counseling.

Remember that resilience doesn’t mean never needing help. Even the most resilient teens sometimes may have trouble bouncing back, according to Ginsburg. Changes in behavior, dropping grades, self-isolation, and physical complaints such as stomach pain, headaches, or chronic fatigue can indicate serious distress. When your teen needs more support than you can provide, seek help from a professional who specializes in treating adolescents.

Mary Helen Berg

Mary Helen Berg is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times, Scary Mommy, and many other publications.