Why do we need resilience?

Building resilience in children helps them to overcome obstacles more easily and reduces the chances of them suffering from anxiety or other stress-related disorders. It is a skill they will need (and value) in adulthood; and it supports good mental health. Children with greater resilience are better able to manage stress – a common response to difficult events and challenges. Children with resilience are less likely to be worried about trying new things as they have the tools to bounce back. They believe in themselves, trust that they can do it, and are not afraid to get it wrong and try again.

What is resilience?

The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. The ability to bounce back from difficult times or situations and not be dragged down by them. And being able to accept life for what it is and move on, without taking it personally or being too self critical.

How to build resilience?

  1. Self-esteem is key: the aim is to get our kids to feel good about themselves by helping them live a life where they feel safe and secure. By helping them feel equipped to manage life as it comes they will trust that they can handle whatever life throws at them. Self-esteem is a person’s overall sense of self-worth or personal inner values. In other words, how much you appreciate and like yourself for WHO you are, not for what you DO. Connect before correct: All kids want is our full attention. If we can set time aside every day where we are 100% zoning in to be WITH our kids (not just around them) it sends a signal that they are worthy of our time. Make it all about connecting and being together, not about doing or performing. If we focus on being with our kids and not what they do we are really boosting their self-esteem because we are showing that we want to be with them and appreciate THEM not what they DO. We ‘feed’ the inner self, who they are. They feel we are there for them when life gets tough and therefore they are more likely to be able to deal with life’s challenges. So set aside time to be WITH your child every day when you can offer him/her your full attention, with no strings attached.
  2. Chores and responsibilities: if our children are having a difficult time it’s easy to slip into the role of making them ‘comfortable’ by doing too much for them. We may feel they have enough on so we don’t want to add to their stress with jobs and chores. But when we do everything for them we are in danger of sending a message that we don’t believe they can do it. When we expect them to be part of the daily running of the family we are ‘saying’ that we trust them to do things. This will help boost their self-esteem. Kids who have been trusted to have daily and important chores are more likely to believe in their abilities to cope. So sit down with your children, agree to some regular chores that you believe they can do. Write them down so everyone knows what is expected, and acknowledge them with positive attention when they do them. CLICK here to watch more about how to set up chores, rules and routines 
  3. Respectful communication: we need to talk to our kids in the same way we would like to be spoken to. A way that makes them feel good about themselves by fully listening to what they say, no matter what we hear. By doing this we send a signal that their voice and opinion matters.
    • Listen to what your child is saying even if you don’t like it, agree with it or find it silly. We expect them to listen to us (even though they might not always like what we say) so we need to do the same. Come from a place of understanding of what they are saying and feeling, and accept it as it is without fixing, contradicting or interrupting. Listening and accepting is not the same as agreeing! CLICK here to read more about ‘The Power of Effective Listening’.
    • It is not our job to control their feelings so really try to just listen to how they feel. Resist the urge to tell them, ‘don’t be sad’ or, ‘there is no need to be upset here’ etc. Simply show that you have listened and understood, and acknowledge what they are feeling.
    • You can also help them translate their choice of words for their feelings so if they say, ‘I hate Sam he didn’t play with me today!’ you can say, ‘I can see you are really sad right now that Sam didn’t want to play with you.’ etc.
    • Mindfully be present when you have a conversation with your child. Use these tools when you are having a nice conversation, an argument or if a child is upset.
  4. Praise: praise that ‘robs’ a child of self-esteem is when we focus on the ‘outer’ qualities of the child i.e. good at something, best at, better at. This type of praise can trigger feelings of shame of failure (they may feel they have to please their parents by living up to it all the time) and may lead to a diminished sense of self-worth. Instead when we focus on a child’s effort and great personality (and it is specific, spontaneous and well deserved) rather than on what is actually accomplished it encourages continuous learning and is a huge confidence booster, e.g. ‘I enjoyed being with you / you are so focused when you are doing your homework / you are really giving this your best effort / it looks like you had fun out there playing football’ and so on.
  5. Let them get it wrong: failure helps kids to learn and is not a negative thing. It is an opportunity to try again a different way, and an opportunity to start again. Failure, with backup, helps kids become resilient!
    • No one goes through life stress free. We can’t protect them forever and it’s better for them to learn how to deal with the ‘bumps’ in life while they are with us in a safe environment, and know that they have a place to go when life gets rough. So trust them that they can deal with it!
    • Don’t fight their battles: We don’t like to see our kids upset and it gives us a heavy heart. So sometimes we try to fight their battles for them or give explanations for their behaviour, i.e. if they fall out with a friend we might try to call the friend’s mum to explain that normally our child is not like that, he was just a bit tired etc. Or redo their homework because we know they will get in trouble. Or pack their PE bag so they don’t get told off. You get the idea! The best thing we can do here is to have a conversation with our child and help them solve things with active problem solving: ‘what can you do differently next time?’ and acknowledge that they are upset, ‘yes I can see you are really upset that you got told off’… CLICK here to read about ‘Helping our Kids Problem Solve’.
    • The most important part of allowing our kids to fail: Be there for them when they fail without judgement or, ‘I told you so!’. Be the solid rock that awaits them with open hands, no matter what. This lets them know that it’s ok to fail as long as we are aware of it, willing to admit to it, and open to trying again next time. Once we have offered them our empathy (not sympathy) we can guide them towards problem solving and how to get a better outcome next time.

Resilience is a gift you can give to your child that they will cherish for the rest of their life.

CLICK here to read more about ‘how to discipline a child so they feel loved’

Best wishes,
Mette Theilmann – part of the Parenting Community team