As a parent you want the best for your child. You also most likely want them to avoid pain and hardship. Rather than sheltering them from trials and difficulties, phycological studies are showing that letting your child experience age-relevant hardships can help them deal with complex issues and emotions later in life by building their resilience.
While it might be easy in the short-term to help them out by solving problems and helping them avoid struggles, if you offer the right support and encouragement you allow them to work their own way through and overcome frustration, disappointment and guilt, and become a key part in building the resilience they need for a bright and empowered future.
What is Resilience?
Resilience is the ability to dust yourself off after a fall or failed attempt and try again. Knowing that there is a solution out there somewhere is all the motivation a child needs to keep trying and keep working at a problem. Some problems are physical, others will be socially centred and some will be emotional. Understanding that the situation can and will change is the motivating factor to keep pressing on and enable them to learn from every attempt as they go so that as well as solving the problem (eventually) they also have an impressive toolkit of experience and ability they can apply to future challenges.
Where Does Resilience Come From?
Resilience is shaped by a number of factors, some that a child is born with, such as their emotional temperament and personality as well as their biological preferences for resilience and learning styles.
The other contributing factors come from the environment in a child’s interactions with parents, siblings, grandparents, teachers, peers and the community in general.
The amount of exposure a child has to difficult situations will also shape how they respond to the next challenge, partly based on how successful or rewarding the previous challenges have been.
Some examples of challenges where resilience can help overcome the situation and strengthen a child’s confidence are:
- Moving home
- Parents separating
- Going to a new school
- Studying for an exam
- The death of a pet or loved one
How to Build Resilience in Children
Building resilience can start at any age. It’s never too late to make a difference and see great results that reduce emotional reactions and help target creative solutions.
Caregivers closest to a child can play the biggest part in supporting resilience and nurturing a supportive environment that encourages a child to try again, not take things personally and keep at it. Steer clear of “I told you so” comments. Be okay about making mistakes, taking the long way to finding a solution and gently encourage them to think about what else might work.
Healthy activities that are age appropriate can improve the likelihood that a child will be accepting of resilience and engage in the bounce-back mentality that can help them recover from stressful experiences more readily, for example:
Regular exercise – see if you can include new sports and different approaches, such as little athletics, gymnastics, team sports, climbing, swimming, hiking to give kids new points of view and encourage them to try new things with different groups of people.
Calming activities – such as deep breathing, quiet time, puzzles, colouring, reading, and sensory play.
Independent tasks – asking them to take some responsibilities as well as be part of the decision-making around the home such as caring for pets, getting themselves ready for school, making dinner once a week (including planning the meal and shopping for ingredients with you) can help exercise their ability to visualise a goal and find different pathways to achieve it.
Having resilience won’t erase stress altogether in some situations, however, knowing they can get to the other side empowers a child to keep trying and expect that better outcomes are possible with action, flexibility and determination.