In Search of Resilience – Fostering a sense of control in today’s youth

Back to List

Posted: Aug 23, 2018| Categories: Uncategorized



June 25, 2018


In Search of Resilience

Fostering a sense of control in today’s youth


By Katie Mable, MA, LCMHC

Family Assessment Team Leader


Judi Exil, MA

Family Assessment Specialist

Northwestern Counseling & Support Services


This is the third of a nine part series with the goal of capturing those people or organizations in our community who are working to cultivate each of the nine components of resilience and highlight a youth voice impacted by this work.


The famous developmental psychologist Jean Piaget has said regarding children, “That which we allow a child to discover himself will remain with him visible for the rest of his life.” This article in the on-going In Search of Resilience series will focus on a sense of control, which is one of Michael Ungar’s nine elements that all children need to be resilient. It is widely acknowledged in many circles of thought on child development that fostering a child’s sense of control and ability to make decisions in his/her life leads to positive outcomes in adulthood. However, you may be wondering how, as a parent or caregiver, you can foster a sense of control in your child and what specific things can you do to assist your child in gaining these life skills? This article will offer some practical tips to support you in that.

Michael Ungar describes two important concepts with regard to fostering a sense of control in youth.  First, children need to be allowed opportunities to make their own age-appropriate decisions as it relates to tasks or dilemmas.  Mistakes or failures can offer important life lessons.  For example, allowing your child to try out for a sports team even though you may suspect they may not “make the cut,” could be a useful learning experience related to coping with setbacks or disappointment in life.  It is important to recognize that the risk we allow a child to take must be appropriate for their developmental age.

Second, the opportunity to experience obstacles allows your child the chance to develop the problem-solving and emotional coping skills necessary to learn how to navigate life’s challenges. Children benefit from being able to process over these experiences with a caring and supportive adult.  Kids can learn to reflect on, “What could I have done differently?” or “What could I do next time?” These experiences are ultimately what allow a child to develop self-control skills and sense of responsibility over their actions. Ungar urges us to not be afraid to ask a child the question, “So, why do you think you weren’t successful and what would you do differently next time?”

One professional in our community currently implementing programs that aim to foster a sense of control in youth is Dr. Sean O’Dell. Sean has been in the field of education for 20 years and is the principal for Fairfield Center School.  Sean notes, “Resiliency isn’t something that someone is born with; resiliency is a combination of factors that can impact a person’s overall health and well-being. Schools work hard to foster resiliency but schools can’t do it alone. Thanks to partnerships that we have like NCSS, we are able to surround children and families with the resources they need to be resilient.”

Sean has a wealth of knowledge around motivation and how it ties to establishing sense of control. He shared his experience as the Principal for Fairfield Center School and his role in working with children who often experience difficulty adhering to rules and expectations. He aims to help youth learn how to be responsible for their actions and understand how much control they have over their own actions. Sean identified seeing a noticeable difference in maturity levels of children whose parents hold them accountable for their own actions.

Programs identified at Fairfield Center School that aim to help youth develop their sense of control include:

  • Fuel Up to Play 60 program: Helps educate students about leadership and gives them activities where they are a part of decision-making and running the program for other kids. Youth can get involved starting in middle school.
  • The 5th graders are in charge of all composting and recycling and putting it out where it’s supposed to be.
  • Outdoor classroom program allows students to garden; they help come up with what they are going to grow, how to do maple sugaring and gives them experiences where they are in control of what is happening.

In an interview with “Anna”, who is a local youth in her freshman year of college, she described the impact of her upbringing.  Anna attributes the development of her healthy sense of control to her parents who were “supportive of the risks that I took in my childhood, and were supportive and honest afterwards. I think this really helped me feel successful from a young age.”

Anna speaks further to how having opportunities to develop a sense of control has benefitted her young adult life. Anna has previously served as a peer mentor for an NCSS Peer Leadership group.  According to Anna, “I think the only way to be successful is to put yourself out there and to take those risks and that is how I established my sense of control.” Anna notes that supports from her family and school, helped her to develop the skills necessary to take healthy risks and practice decision-making in her life.

Developing a sense of control over one’s life is certainly not something that happens overnight.  At Northwestern Counseling & Support Services, the Family Assessment Team supports families with resources and makes referrals to programming that allows parents to access the information and support needed to help youth learn to foster a sense of control in their lives. The perspectives of both Sean and Anna help to reveal that consistent exposure to age appropriate decision making opportunities, at an early age, often lay the foundation for success later in life.




Some practical tips that parents can begin to implement to help foster a sense of control in their child’s life may include:

  • Allow children to make age appropriate decisions
  • Allow children the opportunity to experience setbacks that will help them develop problem solving and emotional coping skills
  • Provide an adult to help process their experiences
  • Help your youth to get involved with programs in the community that will help them develop a sense of control


For additional information:

Local –

State –

National –


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *