Building Resiliency in Our Children

by Darla Senecal

Surveys of our youth suggest that from an early age our children are often feeling low optimism, low self-worth, and high anxiety. Fortunately studies also show us that the ability to overcome negative experiences can be taught. More and more, people are examining the concept of “resilience,” defined as the ability to recover quickly from difficulty. Resilience can be learned through many channels, including a caring parent or family member, teacher, caregiver, coach, or other mentors formal or informal in a child’s life.

Our challenge in building resilience is to give our children the opportunity for growth, to make a mistake and find the answer on their own, to a take a risk and feel accomplished, or to know defeat and that it does not need to define them.

In an effort to support families and to teach resiliency skills, the Addison County Building Bright Futures/Integrated Family Services Group is developing a Resiliency campaign for the region. Focus will be given to our very youngest community members through those 22 years of age. The goal is to rollout the program in September of 2018. During the planning stage the group has reached out to area schools, child care centers, public health services, the Department for Children and Families, teen centers, heath care professionals, and others to collect information on where they see opportunities to support resiliency and to understand what efforts are already in place in our community that we can build upon.

One component of the campaign is to expand public awareness and use of the 7 C’s model developed by Doctor Kenneth Ginsburg. Doctor Ginsburg is a pediatrician who specializes in building resilience in kids. He believes that if we want our children to experience the world as fully as possible, they need resilience. Dr. Ginsburg developed the 7 C’s model as a practical tool for parents and communities. Along with Martha M. Jablow he authored the book “Building Resilience in Children and Teens. Giving them Roots and Wings.” Below is an excerpt from this book.

Young people live up or down to expectations we set for them. They need adults who believe in them unconditionally and hold them to the high expectations of being compassionate, generous, and creative.” Doctor Kenneth Ginsburg

The 7 Cs: Building Blocks of Resilience in Kids

1 Competence

Competence is the ability to handle situations effectively. It is not a vague feeling that “I can do this.” Children become competent by developing skills that allow them to trust their judgment and make responsible choices. When we highlight what young people are doing well but also give them opportunities to acquire new skills, they feel competent. We undermine competence when we prevent young people from trying something new—and from recovering on their own if they fall.

How parents can help

  • Encourage children to focus and build on their strengths. When they handle a situation capably, acknowledge what they have done well and how that will affect others and themselves.
  • Let children make safe mistakes so they have the opportunity to right themselves. Avoid trying to protect them from every stumble.
  • Lectures are too complex for young children to understand and too stressful for teens to hear. Instead, break down ideas one step at a time so they can truly understand your points and feel ownership over the lesson they learn.


2 Confidence

Confidence is the solid belief in one’s own abilities. It is not built by telling kids they’re special or precious. Rather, children gain confidence as they demonstrate their competence in real situations. When parents support children in developing competence, kids believe they can cope with challenges and gain the confidence to try new things. They trust their ability to make sound choices.

How parents can help

  • Instead of focusing only on achievements, encourage the development of personal qualities like fairness, integrity, persistence, and kindness.
  • Praise children honestly and specifically. Rather than “You’re a great artist!” say “I love the colors you used in that painting. Look at the bright red and blue birds!” Specific praise is more believable, and your feedback will have more impact.
  • Encourage children to strive for goals that you think they can achieve but are a bit beyond what they’ve already accomplished.


3 Connection

One of the most protective forces in a child’s life is your unconditional love. Empathizing with kids’ positive and negative emotions helps them feel known, understood, and adored. This emotional safety net gives them the foundation they need to express their feelings and work out solutions to their problems. Connections to civic, educational, religious, and athletic groups can also increase a young person’s sense of belonging and safety in a wider world.

How parents can help

  • Allow children to have and express all types of emotions. Don’t encourage them to suppress unpleasant feelings.
  • Show that relationships matter by addressing conflict directly. Work to resolve problems rather than letting them fester.
  • Encourage children to develop close relationships with others. Set an example by fostering your own healthy relationships.


4 Character

Every family has its own idea of what constitutes good character. Whatever the specifics, children need a fundamental sense of right and wrong to ensure they are prepared to contribute to the world and become stable adults. This is character. It helps children become comfortable sticking to their own values and demonstrating a caring attitude toward others.

How parents can help

  • Talk to your children about how their behaviors affect other people in good and bad ways.
  • Encourage children to consider right versus wrong when making choices. Help them look beyond immediate satisfaction or selfish desires.
  • When you make decisions or take actions, express out loud how you think about others’ needs.
  • Work with children to clarify and express their own values.
  • Be a role model. Your actions speak louder than your words.


5 Contribution

It’s powerful when children realize that the world is a better place because they’re in it. They gain a sense of purpose by seeing the importance of their contributions, and this can motivate them to take action to improve the world. They also learn that contributing feels good and is driven by a sense of commitment and responsibility, not pity. This may help kids feel more comfortable turning to others for assistance without feeling shame.

How parents can help

  • Communicate to children (at appropriate age levels) that many people in the world don’t have as much money, freedom, and security as they need.
  • Teach the important value of serving others.
  • Model generosity with your time, energy, and resources.
  • Create opportunities for children to contribute in a specific way, like volunteering.


6 Coping

Children who learn to cope with stress effectively are better prepared to overcome life’s challenges. Kids who can distinguish between a crisis and a relatively minor setback can avoid unnecessary anxiety. A wide repertoire of positive, adaptive coping mechanisms can also help kids steer clear of dangerous quick fixes for stress. When they’re in crisis, strategies like exercising, giving back, practicing relaxation techniques, and sleeping and eating well can offer relief.

How parents can help

  • Assist children in understanding the difference between a real crisis and something that just feels like one in the moment.
  • Model step-by-step problem solving. Avoid reacting emotionally when you’re overwhelmed.
  • Demonstrate the importance of caring for your body through exercise, good nutrition, and adequate sleep. Practice relaxation techniques.


7 Control

When children’s decisions affect their lives, they learn that they have control. They see that they can do what it takes to bounce back after challenges. If parents make all the decisions, children may believe things happen to them rather than because of their choices. Children who lack a sense of control feel like their actions don’t matter. They can become passive, pessimistic, or even depressed. But resilient children know they have internal control. They know they can make a difference.

How parents can help

  • Encourage children to recognize even their small successes so they know they can succeed.
  • Reward demonstrated responsibility with increased freedom.

Remember that the word “discipline” means to teach, not to punish or control.

“What we do to model healthy resilience strategies for our children is more important than anything we say about them.”

You can find out more about Dr. Greenburg’s work at

By using Dr. Ginsburg’s example of the 7c’ s as a guide in our resiliency campaign, and offering age appropriate tools for families and community members who work with youth, the Addison region hopes to lay the foundation for a strong future for our young people.

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