How to build resilience in your teenager

Image of a teen body standing in a barn. He is looking at the camera and smiling.

Setbacks, problems and failures are an inevitable part of life. As your teen matures and takes on more challenges, they’ll  experience more frustrations and complications. Teaching resilience allows your teen to learn how to recover, adapt and keep going. Learning resilience can help them excel in life, both personally and professionally.

Why is resilience important for teenagers?

Navigating the tricky teen years can be tough - it’s a period of significant changes, physically, mentally and experientially. Every week brings fresh opportunities and challenges which can present new problems to overcome. Helping your teen to develop resilience can equip them with the tools to reduce the impact that negative situations can have.

What does resilience look like?

Teenagers who are resilient display the following traits, all of which can be learnt:

  • emotional awareness and the ability to regulate their emotions

  • control over their impulses

  • an optimistic outlook

  • flexible and accurate thinking

  • empathy towards others

  • believe that they can achieve things (self-efficacy)

  • a willingness to seek help when needed.

Building resilience requires emotional awareness and regulation

For your teen to be resilient, they will need to become comfortable with their feelings and be able to express them appropriately. Help them understand that they are in control of their emotions and thoughts - not the other way around. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Naming without blaming – for instance, saying ‘I feel really frustrated’, but not blaming the emotion on someone or something – can lessen that emotion’s intensity.

  • Pausing and focusing on a thought. Rushing is the enemy of resilience.

  • Accepting that emotions aren’t good or bad – they just are.

A few tips for learning impulse control

We all have impulses to do and say things when we feel angry, annoyed or frustrated. But building resilience doesn’t mean curbing their impulses; it’s about learning not to act on the unhelpful ones. Try this four-step process with your teen:

  1. Stop and think – delay your response.

  2. Deep breaths – it calms and gives control.

  3. Before saying anything, think of three possible responses – choose the most constructive one.

  4. Respond politely and respectfully – it gets you heard.

Some ways to develop an optimistic and resilient mindset

Teach your teen optimism by getting them to think objectively about subjects like exams or their future, and to focus on the positives. Here are some helpful exercises:

  • Learn to say, ‘I can’t do it … yet.’ The way we talk to ourselves affects us. If your teen tells themselves they can master something, chances are they will.

  • Embrace challenges as a means of learning. They may stuff up this time, but they’ll learn how to do it better next time.

  • Getting it done is what matters. Most tasks don’t require perfection, and that includes work and exams. So get your teen to focus on completion, rather than perfection.

It isn’t about your teen seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses. Rather, it’s about them feeling confident that, whatever comes their way, they’ll be able to cope.

Resilient people are better able to  think in flexible ways

Flexible thinking will go a long way to helping your teen build resilience. Being able to come up with a Plan B (or Plan C!) will relieve pressure on them when they’re thinking about what comes next.

Tips to help them think more flexibly and accurately:

  • Recognise that others may look at things differently. This encourages them to consider what others are looking for. A useful skill when applying for jobs or dealing with co-workers.

  • Practical versus personal explanations – for example, did that person forget because they’re busy and stressed, rather than inconsiderate?

  • Realise that it’s okay to feel uncertainty – feeling certain doesn’t guarantee you’re right.

Cultivating self-efficacy: teaching your teen to believe in themselves

Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in their ability to succeed at something, and this can play a significant role in how your teen approaches achieving goals, performing tasks and overcoming challenges.

You can help them to develop self-efficacy by asking:

  • What three things have you done in the past week that you did well?

  • How did these make you feel?

  • What three things have you completed in the past few months that other people have noticed?

  • How did these make you feel?

Being resilient means seeking support when you need it

We all need help at times. Resilient people know when to ask for help and will reach out to others when they’re going through a tough time.

You can encourage your teen to ask for support when they need it, and acknowledge and reward them when they do:

  • Assure your teen that seeking help is a sign of strength.

  • Keep an open dialogue with your teen, so it’s easier for them to bring things up.

  • Remind your teen of positive experiences when they or their friends got help in the past.

You can be a role model for resilience

Lead from the front and talk with your teen about your own experiences with knockbacks and failures, and how you were able to move on. It also doesn’t hurt to name drop a few famous resilient people that have bounced back from the bottom. Some of the most successful people of all time have dealt with rejection and failure to get back on top.

Did you find what you needed?