Building resilience in children.
How to encourage resilient kids.

Challenges and disappointments are a part of life. As parents, it’s tempting for us to try and shield our children from everything that could possibly hurt their feelings or go wrong for them. But while it’s crucial to protect our kids’ safety, it’s just as important for us to help them develop coping mechanisms to enable them to bounce back from life’s inevitable setbacks. Here’s how.

In recent times, there’s no doubt we’ve all been coping with a little more disappointment than usual. Even the most positive and buoyant among us has likely, at times, felt as though we’ve struggled through the last 18 months of rolling lockdowns and cancelled plans.

But if anything, it’s reminded us just how important the life skill of resilience really is. And it’s not just adults who need skills like these in trying times.

While we think that kids are always happy rays of sunshine, able to bounce back from any setback, in truth they too need to be taught how to nurture the skill of resilience.

Some research has shown that a crucial period for the development of resilience is when children are under the age of five. But no matter how old your children are, the good news is that they can begin to develop resiliency when we as parents are able to coach them through challenging moments, and help them review what they may have learned for next time.


What exactly is resilience?

Resilience is, at its core, the ability for someone to recover effectively after a setback in life, learn from the experience, and be even better equipped to deal with the next challenge that comes along. For kids, setbacks they experience early in life can include things like welcoming a new sibling to the family, moving house or school, arguments and disagreements with classmates, or even losing a sports match.

In terms of where our level of resilience comes from, it’s partly determined by our genetics and the personality that we’re born with. But our environment as we grow up can also have a huge influence, with the most important influence of course being our immediate family, followed by our wider community and society.


Why building resilience in children is so important

Habits learned early in life are more likely to stick with us as we grow to become adolescents and adults. Being resilient is perhaps one of the most important skills and habits for children to learn, as it sets them up to better deal with challenges later down the track. They’ll also be more autonomous, better at forming strong relationships with other people around them, and more likely to challenge themselves and take calculated risks later in life that can lead to success.


Seven factors of resilience in kids

Psychologists tend to look at seven different factors when assessing how ‘resilient’ a child is:

1. Parent Factor: when a child shows characteristics of strong and effective parenting, and strong relationships with their parents.

2. Skill Factor: when children show evidence of self-competence.

3. Family and Identity Factor: how strong a child’s sense of family identity and connectedness is.

4. Education Factor: experience of connections and relationships during the learning process.

5. Peer Factor: where social and moral development is enhanced through interactions with peers.

6. Community Factor: where the morals and values of the local community are transferred and the young person is supported.

7. Money Factor: where the young person develops the ability to give as well as take from society through employment and purposeful spending.

Essentially, the above illustrates that resilience is a holistic and multi-faceted trait. Taking a 360-degree approach to supporting your child means you’ll help them to develop their skills in all areas of their life.


Practical strategies for building resilience in your kids

There are a number of practical ways you can promote resilience in your children. These are some of the most important:

Having a positive attitude yourself.

Your attitude as a parent impacts on your child’s ability to bounce back from some of the difficulties they face. Make sure you model a ‘you can do it’ attitude for your child when they meet some of life’s curve balls.

Look for teachable moments.

Many children’s learning opportunities are disguised as problems. Make the most of these opportunities so that your children can grow and learn from some of the challenges they face. If your child is having an issue with a classmate at school for example, you can brainstorm with them and encourage them to come up with a list of ideas on how they might respond next time.

Avoid solving all their problems for them.

It’s important to provide a safe and nurturing environment for your child. But running to the rescue for every small mishap or mistake they make suggests that they’ll never have to deal with issues themselves, and that someone else will always take care of it for them.

Encourage your children to be active participants in the family.

Active participation in appropriate family conversations and decision making develops self-help, problem-solving and independence skills.

Build children’s coping skills.

There are strategies you can pass on to children to help them cope when life doesn’t go their way, including acceptance, getting away for a while, and normalisation.

Try to avoid using catastrophising language unnecessarily.

For example, be careful not to use language such as “bullying” if the issue of concern may still be at the point of “not getting on with someone in the playground”. Equally though, if it is really bullying, then your child will need your active support.

Recognise and acknowledge when things are going well.

A kind of gratitude, it’s important to build children’s habits around what is going well in their lives. You could make it a ritual at family meals to all share one positive thing from your day, for example.


Resilience building is a continual and ongoing process

Promoting resilience in children is a not a one-off event, but a continuous process that requires us as adults to be supportive and empathetic when things don’t go their way. It also requires you as a parent to have a good understanding of resilience, so you have faith in yourself, and your child’s ability to cope.

Who knows – helping your child through may just help you refresh your own skills in remaining positive and persisting through challenge as well. And that’s something we could do with a little more of these days.

If you feel as though your child may be struggling with developing resilience, there’s always professional support available. Relationships Australia NSW runs regular online group courses in parenting, including our most popular Circle of Security, and Bringing Up Great Kids – both of which can help give you practical strategies to support your child through all stages of their development.

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