Resilience Is Independence: Kids Who Think “I Can Do This” Turn Challenges Into Growth

By: Dana Brunell Eisenberg, MA, MSN, APRN

Resilience is the ability to overcome serious stress or difficulty, and bounce back stronger than ever. In this series, Connecticut Children’s pediatric experts share keys to resilience, and tips to help your child be resilient during the coronavirus pandemic.

When children trust in their ability to master new skills and do things for themselves, it’s easier for them to weather the ups and downs of life – including the current pandemic.

Dana Brunell Eisenberg, MA, MSN, a nurse practitioner in Connecticut Children’s Division of Developmental Pediatrics (and an expert in “scaffolding learning”), joins the blog to explain this key to resilience.

The goal for parents is to help children help themselves.

We can help kids grow independent by giving just enough help. This means giving them the guidance they need to tackle new challenges, but resisting the urge to swoop in and do things for them. Every time your child learns something new – often, with lots of trial and error – the experience reinforces their sense of “I can do this.” That will stick with them, and help them overcome setbacks and failures throughout life.

To learn a new skill, here’s what your child needs from you:

  • Prepare a task that’s challenging but doable. For example, if you’re teaching a young child to pour, fill a child-sized pitcher with just enough liquid, and have a cloth handy for your child to mop up spills – because there will almost certainly be spills.
  • Demonstrate the task. Show your child where to place fingers, how to carefully tilt the pitcher and how to clean up any spills. Share your enjoyment of the task. Then invite your child to take a turn.
  • Step aside and let them learn to do it themselves. Yes, this means watching as your child struggles a bit. Give them time to practice and improve on their own. Nine times out of 10, they can do it.
  • Celebrate their success and efforts. Once your child knows how to pour, they’ll want to pour all the time. Great! At mealtime, put a child-sized pitcher on the table and encourage your child to pour their milk. They’ll love having a helping role, and you’ll have supported the development of coordination, fine motor and sequencing skills, plus boosted their self-confidence.

See below for more independence-building activities you can do at home. For extra inspiration, check out 16 Creative Ways to Keep Your Kids Busy During Social Distancing.

Young kids

Young children thrive on hands-on experiences that help them understand how the physical world works. Look for opportunities to help them answer the “what” questions of life – “What is this tool and what does it do?” – with activities like these.

  • Making a bed
  • Hanging up one’s coat
  • Dusting/polishing/sweeping/scrubbing
  • Watering plants
  • Setting the table
  • Helping prepare a simple snack (washing grapes, tearing lettuce leaves)

School-aged kid

School-aged children are more abstract thinkers, who are beginning to wonder about the bigger-picture questions of “how” and “why.” They are also very social. Look for ways to shape their understanding of different concepts as you encourage them to try more complicated tasks.

  • Preparing part of a meal (fruit salad, greens and vegetable salad)
  • Baking with an adult
  • Taking care of pets
  • Wrapping presents
  • Gardening
  • Sorting/folding the laundry
  • Arranging flowers (child-sized vase; smaller flowers, child scissors to trim stems)
  • Planning a virtual family get-together

> Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health is committed to building resilience in children and families so they can be better positioned to thrive in challenging times. Learn more about our community-oriented work.


Adolescents are trying to figure out how they fit into society and can make a difference. Guide them toward activities in which they can shape and improve something on a grander scale. Here are a few examples.

  • Planning an outing
  • Helping with shopping lists/budgeting
  • Preparing a simple meal (with all food groups represented)
  • Identifying a need in the community and designing a plan to address it (there are plenty!)
  • Inventing a new process or gizmo to improve household chores/routines

At all ages, remember these takeaways.

  • Find activities that honor your child’s unique interests and inclinations.
  • Help your child with the hardest part of a task (not the whole task).
  • Show your enthusiasm for the activity and for your child’s attempts and success.
  • Let go of perfection – this is a process, not a product.

Most of all, enjoy and appreciate this time with your child. Behold the wonder of watching your child’s brain work, and their pride in all the things they can accomplish by themselves.

Read the next article in the series >>

Check out all of our coronavirus resources for families >>

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