Resilient children can be easier to get along with, thanks to their more even temperament, psychological flexibility and ability to get on with things without kicking up more of a fuss than is necessary or constructive.
What is resilience?
Resilience is mentally and emotionally coping with and adapting to challenges in helpful, constructive ways in order to return to a healthy state of wellbeing in a reasonable amount of time.
What isn’t resilience?
Never getting upset or worried when something goes wrong and being happy, confident and calm all the time.
What you need to know about resilience before you teach it.
Children can be resilient one moment and the next minute, unbuckle and unravel into a pit of emotional chaos. This doesn’t make someone outright ‘resilient’ or ‘not resilient.’
Resilience is a lifelong process, growing with time, practice, encouragement, brain maturity and exposure to enough (but not too much) challenge and adversity that is supported compassionately and wisely.
There are many factors like personality, temperament, developmental factors, interacting with genetic predispositions and environment that affect where you sit on the resilience spectrum. In one family, you can have siblings sitting on opposite points on the resilience scale. Don’t blame yourself for your less resilient child. At the same time, don’t get tempted to applaud yourself for your more resilient one!
Instead, look at your child’s personality and support them from where they’re at, for who they are. Because of their age, limited life experience and ‘still under construction’ brains, most toddlers, pre-schoolers, children and teenagers aren’t consistently or predominantly resilient (yet). This doesn’t necessarily reflect how resilient they will be as adults, so try not to get ahead of yourself.
When will my child ‘get more resilient?’
Your hard work to support your child’s resilience, may not show itself until your child is older and has reached a point of brain maturation that allows them to act more resiliently. For some, (sorry folks) this may well be around the time they move out of home!
Here are five ways you can help your child build resilience.
1. Develop your own resilience.
One of the cold hard facts of parenting is that we can’t expect our children to be good at something they don’t see us Role Modelling. Parenting consumes its fair share of physical and emotional energy. Many parents find themselves running off an ‘energy deficit,’ because they can barely find time to pause and take care of themselves. When your wellbeing hits rock bottom, so will your resilience. So, take care of yourself, ask for and accept help, rest, recover, take short cuts and do as much as possible to lay a foundation of healthy wellbeing so you too, can be resilient through the ups and downs of parenting.
2. Don’t make resilience sound easy or minimise your child’s problems.
If something feels big to them – that’s because it is big to them. A child’s perception and experience of a difficulty is often perceived in a magnified way, because of their developing brain. The thinking and rationalising part of their brain is still growing, so emotions tend to take over quickly and be felt deeply. When they are upset about something, no matter how small it might seem to you, it can help to say something like, ‘it looks like you’re having a hard time,’ and ‘I can see this is hard for you.’ These words reassure your child that you acknowledge their experience is tough for them and that you care about that. Be careful not to over empathise though – just genuinely show you take their feelings seriously. Resilience grows from having a space for all your feelings and not being made to feel like something is wrong with you, for having them.
3. Help your child develop confidence through competence.
Children need to know they can do things on their own and that they are coping for their age. While it can be tempting to do everything for our children as an expression of love and support, the message that can emerge is ‘you’re not good enough on your own – you need someone else to be truly competent.’ While this is partially true, as well all need people in our lives who care about us and are willing to help when we need it, helping more than is necessary is not helpful for resilience. Try and avoid doing too many things that they can do for themselves. What skills they might be ready to build? Tidying up? Preparing meals? Mopping and vacuuming? Look at your child’s age, personality and developmental abilities and help them build confidence through competence.
4. Find time for connection.
Healthy relationships with parents and carers is crucial for resilience. Quality one on one time can be difficult in a family but your undivided attention helps your child feel an inner confidence that they matter and are seen, heard and valued for who they are. Show your delight when you see them, especially first thing in the morning and after time apart (and try warm connection before you provide any kind of direction).
5. Encourage healthy risk taking.
Taking healthy risks is about being willing to give something a go without a guarantee of success. No one likes to fail or see things didn’t turn out as planned. Everything feels much better when you succeed. What can happen to many children is, through fear of failure, some great opportunities get avoided altogether. Being willing to take risks that aren’t guaranteed success is an important part of building resilience and wellbeing because it allows your child to practice courage and vulnerability which help you be more confident through the ups and downs of life. Healthy risks look different for everyone. Think about your child and your family, follow your gut and look into ways they can step a little more out of their comfort zone, with your loving and empathic support to move closer towards becoming braver and more confident.
Resilience takes time…
Remember that being rushed into resilience doesn’t work and nor does a ‘toughen up, sink or swim’ approach. Resilience takes time, growing through day to day experiences that allow children to see they are loved and supported through adversity, yet capable and competent to go the distance themselves. The most important thing is that you are patient with them and patient with yourself, remembering that no one gets it right all the time.
Madhavi Nawana Parker’s latest book, ‘The Resilience and Wellbeing Toolbox: Creating character and competence through life’s ups and downs’ 2nd Ed (2020) is out now and available through all good booksellers and online:
Australia wide: positivemindsaustralia.com.au/books
About Madhavi Nawana Parker from Positive Minds Australia
Madhavi Nawana Parker, Director of Positive Minds Australia is a widely published author of resilience, wellbeing, confidence and social emotional intelligence books, articles and programs. Madhavi has worked with children, teenagers, families and schools for over twenty years, following University studies in Psychology and Counselling. Madhavi is known for her empathic understanding towards parents, educators and young people, working tirelessly through her writing, public speaking and counselling, to improve mental health, resilience and wellbeing. Madhavi is married with three children and enjoys time with family, friends and nature.