Resilience is the ability to bounce back from stress, challenge, trauma or adversity. Resilient children are more courageous, more adaptable and more curious, and they do not let mistakes hold them back. Rather, they acknowledge them and learn what to do differently next time. They have a positive image of the future, with solid goals and a desire to achieve them. They are more empathetic and compassionate, but they are not concerned by what others think of them, so are less likely to succumb to peer pressure. Resilient kids perform better at school and are less likely to engage in risky behaviours.
Psychologists describe resilient children as perceiving their setbacks in different ways to children who are not. Firstly, resilient children acknowledge that the effects of bad events are temporary, not permanent. They also don’t let setbacks affect other unrelated areas of their lives. Rather than saying, “I’m not good at anything”, they will say, “this isn’t my strength”. Finally, resilient children do not blame themselves for bad events, and can recognise outside influences that affected the outcome.
It’s extremely important that we’re raising our kids to be resilient. The fact is, they are going to encounter difficulties in life and make mistakes. So, learning how to cope with these setbacks from a young age will make an enormous difference as they enter adulthood.
How can I improve my child’s resilience?
Don’t accommodate every need.
The period between falling and getting back up again is important for children learning to find their feet. Whenever parents try to provide certainty and comfort, they inhibit their child’s ability to develop their own problem solving. Over protecting children fuels their anxiety. This includes not providing all the answers, so children become accustomed to the feeling of uncertainty and learn how to cope with it.
Set an example of resiliency.
Children learn so much from observing their parents’ behaviour. Try to be calm and consistent, and acknowledge when you make mistakes. Allow your children to see how you deal with disappointment at a level they can understand. This teaches your kids that human emotions such as sadness and disappointment are normal, but that they are temporary. Show them how you get back up when you fall.
Make sure their minds and bodies are healthy.
Kids who participate in regular physical activity are happier and healthier. They maintain more regular sleeping cycles, and their brains release endorphins and chemicals which assist them in coping with stress, and increase their self-esteem. These attributes assist in overcoming adversity and dealing with challenges.
Teach your child how to re-frame.
This can be linked to optimism and is very important in teaching resilience. During times of difficulty or disappointment, it is important to acknowledge what we have, instead of what we have lost. This can be as simple as acknowledging their disappointment that the weather prevented them from playing their sport, and guiding them to consider the positives, like the other activities they will be able to do instead.
Enrol your child in a team sport.
Playing a team sport teaches kids important lessons in accepting decisions when things do not go as they planned. A 2011 study from Queen’s University in Canada found that children who play team sports are more likely to show initiative and more able to call on internal sources of motivation. Kids who play team sports have higher self-esteem and are more confident in their abilities. They also build strong and meaningful relationships with their coaches and team mates, giving them a strong support network to fall back on. These all work together to better equip kids to be more resilient when experiencing setbacks. However, it is important that your child plays a sport they will enjoy. If you’re not ready to fork out for a club membership, or are unsure which sport is best, consider a holiday sports coaching camp to give your child a taste, or to brush up on existing skills. Australian Sports Camps offers 40-50 sports camps across Australia every school holidays.
Encourage them to face their fears and take safe risks with your support.
Let them know that the courageous decision to confront a challenge is more important than the outcome. When children are offered age-appropriate freedom they learn where their boundaries lie, how to problem solve, and that they are capable of moving forward when things go wrong. Exposure to stressors that they can cope with during childhood sets them up to deal with challenges and stress in adulthood. Research suggests that early exposure to manageable stressors causes positive changes in the brain that will protect them against future stress.
Help your child to experience success by supporting them in something they like doing, such as sport, art or another hobby.
When children feel successful in one area of life, the feeling is contagious and they feel more confident in other areas. If your child’s chosen hobby is a sport, for example, you could consider giving them extra support to succeed by sending them to a holiday sports program to brush up on their skills.
Ask “how”, not “why”. “Why” questions do not promote problem solving.
When things go wrong, kids will often answer to “why” with “I don’t know”. Instead, try asking questions such as, “how will you fix that?”, or “how will you try to reduce the chance of it happening next time?”. While it may be tempting to solve all of your child’s problems, asking “how” questions fosters independence by encouraging them to develop solutions on their own. Of course, guide them when necessary, but try to be more of a sounding board, as their minds explore their different options.
Finally, let your kids make mistakes.
It can be hard to stand back and let them go, but the best way to learn resilience is by being allowed to make wrong decisions and seeing the consequences. Failure is not the end of the world, it’s inevitable. When kids believe that you trust them to cope with challenges, they trust in themselves too.
We hope that’s provided some useful pointers and strategies on how to foster and develop your child’s resilience. Lastly don’t forget to nurture your own resiliency – resilient parents help make resilient kids.