Learning how to build your child’s resilience is something they will forever appreciate and benefit from. Their learning journeys are not always smooth. As they skip, run, stumble and fall, we’re there helping them to keep on track; maintaining their enthusiasm for learning and guiding them in the right direction. We help them with the academic stuff, the creative stuff, the physical stuff, the social and emotional stuff. But for them to ultimately succeed on their journey, there is one fundamental area that links to all the others: resilience. We need to equip them with the skills to cope with challenges, allowing them to thrive in all areas of their learning.
As a parent, you will have experienced the sometimes heart-breaking situations, of your child encountering stress. It may be the day-to-day challenges of navigating friendships or taking a test, to bigger challenges such as dealing with bullies or moving school and/or country. Although we can’t prevent many of these, we can help our kids develop strategies so they can effectively deal with them.
What is resilience?
Resilience is our ability to effectively cope when challenging situations occur. This can include the ability to be able to:
- bounce back
- remain hopeful and optimistic despite the challenge
- remain flexible in how we see things
- not be afraid to ask for help when we need it
- stand up for ourselves
- have the courage to give things a go.
Being resilient helps our kids deal with stressful situations. With practice, they’ll be able to develop skills to tackle challenges as they come along. Over time, this will lead to greater self-confidence. They learn that they can deal with the challenges that life throws at them; that they are able and strong enough to do so. The more practice they get with the skills needed, the more resilient they will become.
As in all things, every child is different. Some will take longer to get a firm hold of the strategies, some will become resilient quickly and some will need more support. And just like with adults, there will be times when they are not as resilient as they are at other times. Sometimes, the challenges may get a bit too much resulting in them becoming extremely emotional, such as very angry, frustrated etc. It doesn’t matter how quickly or slowly they learn to be resilient. Like learning anything, it’s not a race – your child will get there in their own time.
Can my child learn to be more resilient?
The answer is a resounding YES! Building one’s resilience is actually a lifetime endeavour! As you read this, you may be questioning your own resilience – ‘I’m not that resilient myself, so how can I help my child?’. If this is you, take comfort in the knowledge that you can build your own resilience, and continue to do so as you help your child build theirs. Don’t allow your own level of resilience to stop you from building theirs. If we start to build our kid’s resilience when they are young, they will have an easier job of continuing to build on that into adulthood.
If you’d like to start work on improving your resilience, you can get a free copy of the parent resilience guide here:
How do I know if my child is resilient?
Nobody, including children, is resilient all of the time. But some things you may notice in a resilient child may include:
- talking positively, despite something not going their way
- being comfortable to express their feelings age appropriately
- not supressing strong emotions when they surface
- not being afraid to ask for help when they need it
- able to name their feelings
- socially and emotionally competent for their age.
Sometimes a child can appear resilient, when in reality they aren’t. In this case, you may notice things such as:
- Not fully engaging with what’s happening around them
- liable to give up on things quickly, rather than keep trying
- tend to keep their feelings hidden
- when they find something difficult, they pretend otherwise
- they lack confidence when having to deal with a situation and keep quiet about their inability to cope with it effectively
How to build your child’s resilience
Resilience is closely related to stress. Becoming resilient means we become better at coping with stress, which is a BIG one given the increasingly stressful lives of our kids. No matter the age of your child, it’s never too late to start focusing on building their resilience. Below are 8 strategies for you to build your child’s resilience. You may find some of them you do naturally and have been doing all along. Others may be new to you.
1. Your child needs a secure bond with at least ONE adult
The relationship is characterised by an adult who provides, reliability, security, love, security and support for your child. They may have this bond with several adults in their life; but if not, be reassured that they only need one such bond to become resilient individuals. In this kind of relationship, kids are given the opportunity to develop crucial coping strategies in times of stress. The adult can also help to lessen the effects of stress which can have a negative impact on their immune system.
2. Instil a sense of optimism
There’s plenty of research telling us that the most resilient people are those who have an optimistic outlook. Science (thankfully!), is also discovering that our brains can be rewired – and that WE can rewire them. If you find that your child already has a tendency towards a pessimistic outlook, you can easily teach them to look at the world differently, (you can do it for yourself too!). The more opportunities your child gets to practice this, the more optimistic they will become. For example, when something disappointing happens, you can help them see a positive that has come out of it. On a recent trip, we ended up in a terrible hotel that we’d already paid for. My young daughter’s response was, ‘this will be an adventure!’. It was certainly proof that she’s developing an optimistic mindset!
Related: Taking Kids Travelling…
3. Model resiliency
As in all their learning, our young kids look to us for guidance in how to behave. They want to be like mum, dad, aunt etc. and will imitate us to this end. This can be used in a powerful way to teach and show them resilience. When you’re faced with challenges, (so long as it’s age appropriate), you can let them into your world and share your feelings with them. You can tell them the range of emotions you feel, showing not only are these emotions OK to have, but it’s also OK to show them. You can explain/show how you’re dealing with your disappointment, for example. You may say that although you feel disappointed that you didn’t get the work you wanted, you realise that it’s given you an opportunity to spend more time doing your own work, which may lead to something better.
Related: Learning Through Failing
4. Encourage age appropriate risk taking
Being able to take appropriate risks is not only fundamental to their learning but will crucially build their resilience. Appropriate risk taking allows them to see that if it doesn’t work out, they are able to cope with the result. This makes things, including taking the actual risk, feel less scary. The less afraid they are to take appropriate risks, the more they’ll realise just how much they can do. For example, it may be your child summoning up the courage to put their hand up in class for the first time. Once they do and learn that the world doesn’t fall apart, a whole new, exciting world opens up for them.
5. Provide them with problem solving tools
As with everything else, kids will learn from our self-talk. It’s sometimes hard not to give them the solution when they feel scared or challenged by something. But by not always doing so, is a great way to build their resilience. You can do this by providing them with the language to solve problems. For example, your child may be worried or scared about their first swimming lesson at school. Rather than tell them what to do, you could ask them what they think they could do if they still feel worried in the lesson. You may include asking them what they think their good friend would do in the same situation, or somebody they admire. You could also remind them of other times they have felt concerned about something and how they overcame the worry in that situation.
6. Show your trust in them
Our kids’ beliefs and feelings about themselves is intertwined with how we feel (which can feel a little scary!). You’ll already know that what you feel matters greatly to your child. They look to us to gauge how they’re doing. If we believe they have the ability to cope with challenges, that becomes their belief too. This is of course, huge! On the surface it sounds easy. But it’s not always easy. In fact, it can be very easy to attempt to fix everything. And some occasions will call for that, and that’s OK and needed at times. But if we can show them as often as we can, that we trust them to be able to cope; their own belief in themselves being able to cope will strengthen, and that’s GOLDEN.
7. Encourage exercise
Research tells us that exercise strengthens the brain in such a way that it makes us more resilient during stressful situations, (applicable to parents too!). Kids will naturally want to run around and actively play. In a time however, where free play time is getting more restricted with technology and kids being over scheduled, it’s vital we make sure our kids have enough time each day to exercise – and play!
8. Let them know who their fans are!
Research shows that kids with a strong social support, have increased resilience and higher self-esteem. To this end, it’s really important to encourage and build their relationships with the people who care about them. Take every opportunity to let them know how much these people love and care for them. For example, if your child’s teacher makes a passing comment about how proud she was of your child that day, remember to tell your child. Also, with family members, especially if they don’t see them very often. For example, you may say something along the lines of how you think their grandpa would have been really impressed with something they did.
Building our kids’ resilience is truly fundamental to how well they will do in life – not just now, but for the rest of their lives. It’s such a gift we can give them: to continually build their coping strategies so they can go out into the world strong and capable, with a concrete belief in their own ability to cope. Unlike some other aspects of learning however, it’s an on-going endeavour; something we need to continually work on – but brings tremendous rewards.
Over to you…
Have you any experiences or comments to share on building your child’s resilience? If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.
To end, I’d like to share with you this wonderful poem. It reminds us of how seemingly small worries for our young kids can grow into very big worries and how we can help them.