The Power of Resilience: Control Back »

Written by Andrea Knox, former SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Development & Resiliency Field Specialist.


Youth who learn they have the ability to control their actions and therefore the outcomes they grow up to ultimately be more resilient. Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, author of “Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings,” explains that young people who understand privileges and respect are earned through demonstrated responsibility will learn to make wise choices and feel a sense of control. They see themselves as having influence over what happens in their life and can take responsibility. Here are a few tips to foster a sense of control within youth.

Positive Discipline Strategies

Discipline means to guide or help teach, not to punish or control children.

  • Give Positive Attention Frequently: Giving kids plenty of positive attention can curb and prevent problem behaviors from taking place. Children crave attention especially from their parents, therefore they may act out to gain attention even if it is negative attention. Do fun everyday things together such as preparing a meal, telling jokes, playing a guessing game, or taking them with you on an errand. Give praise and show appreciation for the good things they do such as helping with daily chores and sharing with a sibling.
  • Appropriate Consequences: Ginsburg explains, consequences should be within reason and related to the misbehavior so children see the correlation between their action and the consequence. Here are a couple of examples. Leaving dirty laundry lying around in their room means not having a favorite sweatshirt when they want it. Not getting homework done means no television, computer or cell phone time. By making consequences immediate and linked to the crime you help youth see they have some control over the situation. The parent may set the parameters, but the child controls his decision and consequence within the parameter.

Earned Freedom

As youth get older giving them opportunities to demonstrate responsibility leads to more privileges and a greater sense of control. When discussing issues or problems with youth encourage reaching an agreement through negotiation. Some topics may not be up for negotiation such as using inappropriate language or stealing, but many topics will likely work well through a negotiation agreement. This involves talking with the child about the issue and agreeing on certain parameters including consequences if the agreement is broken. For example, a child may negotiate to stay up an hour later in the evening given the parameters that her homework is finished with good quality and she wakes up in the morning bright eyed and ready for school on time. The consequence may be if the child is not completing their homework to the best of their abilities or they awake cranky each morning then they return to the previous bed time and the topic can be approached again at a later time. When youth are involved in negotiation and the agreement they are more apt to follow through because they had a say. When problems do arise and she does not follow through on her end of the agreement let the consequence do the teaching and not your anger. Let her know it’s okay to mess up and you still support her, but she does have to face the set consequence.

Delayed Gratification

You see your child’s twinkling eyes looking at you while that cute voice says “pleeese” and all you want to do is make him smile from ear to ear happy as can be that you gave him exactly what he wanted. Fast forward a few years to an adult who never learned delayed gratification whether due to parent indulgence or other factors and it is not quite so cute! As children become older it is important for them to learn that often we have to wait for things we want. Some things we earn through hard work, others we have to wait a certain amount of time for, and sometimes we never get them at all. This is an important piece in the development of self-control. It may be as simple as vegetables are eaten before desert or a certain toy or piece of sports equipment has to be earned. Later a child may learn putting much time and effort into a school project leads to something he can be especially proud of. A resilient child knows he has an inner control and his choices and action help determine the results.

Here are some parting questions to consider about control posed by Dr. Ginsburg:

  • Do we help young people understand that life is not purely random?
  • Do we help them, on the other hand, to understand that they are not responsible for many of the bad circumstances that may have plagued them?
  • Do we help them think about the future but take one step at a time?
  • Do we help them recognize their mini-successes so they can experience the knowledge that they can succeed?
  • Do we help youth understand that while no one can control all their circumstances each person can shift the odds by choosing positive or protective behaviors?
  • Do we understand that youth who have been hurt emotionally or physically may think they have no control and therefore have no reason to take positive action?
  • Do we understand that discipline is about teaching not punishing or controlling. Do we use discipline as a means to help someone understand that their actions produce consequences (i.e., life is not random)?

For more information visit the Foster Resilience website or read Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg.

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