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Tips for Increasing Resilience to Decrease Challenging Behaviors in Young Children

By CFI Predoctoral Fellow Kai Primus-Dawson, M.A.

Resilience is the ability to recover from difficult situations and move forward. For children, challenging situations may include: changing environments like home or school, bullying, family separation, family illness/ death, or getting a new sibling. Children crave consistency so if something interrupts that, it can lead to negative behaviors. Challenging behaviors occur because children often do not have the words to express their feelings or sometimes may not know exactly what is upsetting them. Resilience helps children understand that negative emotions don’t last forever and helps them deal with challenges in healthier ways. 

Relationships are the foundation of your child’s resilience. Strong relationships with caregivers make a child feel secure, safe, and nurtured. This helps them feel comfortable to explore their surroundings and unfamiliar situations because they know if something bad happens, they will have you to love them unconditionally and they will recover.

At home you can increase your child’s resilience by:

Talking about emotions:

Expressing positive and negative emotions explicitly in front of your child: “When I spill coffee on my shirt before work, I feel frustrated/sad/annoyed.”

When talking about your feelings, discuss how you will appropriately express those emotions

Discuss the emotions of characters in books or on TV; how do they deal with those emotions?

Encourage your child to talk through their emotions. This can help them recognize feelings independently and learn to regulate them.

Build strong communication skills so your child can express their feelings rather than acting in challenging ways (make a story where everyone in the family adds on, everyone shares about their day at dinner, etc.).

Encouraging self-control:

Model and discuss self-control (especially in situations where you are angry).

Play games that encourage self-control (musical chairs, redlight-greenlight, etc.).

Modeling and discussing problem solving:

Share how you resolve large and small issues that occurred during your day at dinner.

Play games that encourage your child to think of solutions.

If your child has a problem, instead of solving it for them immediately, ask them “what do you think might work?” Help them think through ideas before offering yours.

Model and build self compassion in your home:

Self compassion will help your child deal with disappointment in a healthy way.

American Psychological Association. (2014). Resilience booster: Parent tip tool. American Psychological Association. Retrieved September 26, 2023, from

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