Building Resilience in Children
It is normal for a child to struggle at certain points in time. This doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with her or with your parenting. It may be the demands and expectations of the world around the child which are causing her to struggle. The important thing is to sort out problems before they escalate and gather a life of their own, impacting on a child’s wellbeing and self-esteem. Building resilience in children takes thought and dedication, so take a look at the advice below for resilient kids.
Here are 8 tips for building resilience in children
1. Don’t let your child give up automatically on something he’s “bad at”.
If a child tries something – let’s say karate – finds it difficult, and then gives up, it goes without saying that he won’t get a chance to improve. He won’t have a chance to feel that incredible sense of joy and satisfaction when you have worked hard and achieved something great. In adult life lots of things are difficult and it’s important for children to learn to give things a really good shot, overcoming some challenges along the way. For example, relationships can be hard but it’s not healthy to give up after the first argument or disagreement. Finding a job or career, getting into university, or passing your driving test all require resilience. I have met many children who have tried multiple sports and clubs, and have given up on them all. After a while, this can make them feel like they are not actually good at anything.
2. Let your child fail
This is especially important if you have a high-achieving child. No child can win the gymnastics competition every time. Or be top of the class in every assessment. It’s unhealthy not to be experienced in coping with failure. Failure can become something to be feared and to be ashamed of. Fear of failure can be a significant problem which can create stress and anxiety.
Ideally, your child will experience regular failure and regular success. Failure makes the successes feel so much sweeter. It also allows your child to develop skills in losing or failing with grace and congratulating others who have succeeded. (This will make your child into a better friend, someone who has kindness and empathy for others.)
3. Let your child experience difficult emotions
Building resilience in children always involves them experiencing difficult emotions. This allows the child to realise, “I can cope with this feeling”. Listen to your child’s feelings about failure. Sadness, anger, frustration, shame, or disappointment. Label the emotions and allow your child to “sit with” them until they pass. Provide extra nurturing experiences if you can. For example: “I know you feel frustrated and disappointed. It’s okay to feel like that, I know I would feel the same. Let me make you a nice warm drink and we can sit together for a little while.”
4. Encourage a wide range of experiences
Your child may be brilliantly academic or sporty. He may experience regular success and occasional failure. It is really important for him to get a wide range of different experiences, to develop resilience in different life skills. Scouting and guiding are great examples of activities which allow your child to experience lots of things they would not normally encounter, from survival skills to DIY, first aid to performing. It’s one thing to be resilient in playing football and be able to bounce back from a defeat, but it’s another to have the satisfaction of preparing a meal over a campfire. Both are valuable, both take practice!
5. “Label it”: Identify ways your child handles challenges
Sit down with your child and work out her best skills, qualities and clever ideas for overcoming challenges. First of all, think about some challenges she had overcome. Managing to build a rollercoaster in Minecraft? Getting picked for the school choir after the third time of trying? Talk through what happened and write down some ideas. You could make these into a colourful poster, for example: “Freya’s resilience poster”. Pay close attention to personal qualities which might have helped, such as determination, courage or a sense of humour. What skills and clever ideas were used? Perhaps your child manage to ask for help? Perhaps she used “positive self-talk” such as: “I can do it next time, I just need to work on my confidence and sing a bit louder.”
6. Encourage problem-solving
Dealing with challenges can take some skill. Not all difficult situations have a solution, but many do. It can help to encourage the idea that most things have a solution if we can figure it out.
Let’s imagine an eleven-year-old boy who is due to go on a school residential trip. He “failed” last year when there was 2-day school trip as he was too anxious to go on it. This trip is even longer (4 days). He is scared about being sick on the coach, and about missing his parents. Taking each issue in turn, his dad talks through how the problem could be overcome so that the boy can enjoy the trip. They write down some ideas and then choose the best ones. These include: Taking a travel sickness pill, sitting at the front of the coach, and taking some paper bags along just in case. Having a daily “check-in” with his favourite teacher on the trip, to talk through any homesickness or other difficult feelings. As you can see, building resilience in children often involves having a clear plan to prepare for potential difficulties.
7. Teach “Growth Mindset”
Growth Mindset, an idea developed by psychologist Carol Dweck, has been embraced by schools but is also useful to teach at home.
A fixed mindset is:
“I am terrible at maths.”
A growth mindset might be:
“I need to practise my times tables so that I can get better at maths”.
Our brains are growing and developing all the time. The more we do something, the more we strengthen neuronal networks in the brain, making the skill feel more natural each time. Nothing is static. All areas of the brain can be strengthened, so it doesn’t matter if it’s a motor skill (such as a dance or gymnastics move) an academic skill (such as writing stories) or a friendship skill (making two-way conversation). If you hear your child making a statement which reflects a fixed mindset, gently challenge her to swap it to a growth mindset one instead.
8. Model resilience
Children learn so much by watching how their parents behave and respond. Whenever something does not work out or you experience failure, model a positive response to your child. During tough times, show them that you can withstand the storm and bounce back. It is okay to let your child see your emotions about it, as this teaches them that emotions are healthy and normal. It also helps them see that the emotion will pass. Whether you have experienced a trauma or bereavement or didn’t get that job you so wanted, it can be used as an opportunity to help.
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