Building Resilient Children

College Blog Tuesday, 16 June 2020

What is resilience? Resilience is the ability to bounce back from stress, adversity, failure, challenges, or even trauma. It is not something that we either have or don’t have. Encouragingly, resilience is a skill that we can learn, refine and develop.

Resilient children are more likely to take healthy risks because they don’t fear falling short of expectations. They are curious, brave, and trusting of their instincts. They know their limits, and they push themselves to step out of their comfort zones. This helps them to reach for their long-term goals, and it helps them solve problems independently.

All children encounter stress of varying degrees as they grow. Despite our best efforts as parents, we can’t protect our children from some of life’s obstacles. Our children need to experience these obstacles to develop many life skills. The constraints may appear small to the eye of a parent, but they can feel vast and all-consuming to children.

When children have the skills and confidence to confront and work through their problems, they learn that they have what it takes to face difficult situations. The more they bounce back on their own, the more they internalise the message that they are strong and capable.

So, how do we support our children to be resilient?

Problem-solvers: We can help our children to become more resilient by teaching them to solve problems independently. We saw many of our students become fantastic problem-solvers during our time of online learning, working out new ways to participate in practical subjects, managing distractions and building independence. While we may feel compelled to jump in and solve the problem for our children, this action can sometimes hinder the building of resilience. Children need to experience this discomfort so that they can learn to work through and develop their problem-solving skills, with parent support as needed.

Relationships: Resilience needs relationships. Research shows that it takes the constant presence of at least one supportive relationship to build resilience in children. The presence of a responsive adult can help to reverse the physiological changes that are activated by stress. Working with a reliable adult, a child can learn to understand stressful decisions and ways to manage difficult times. Anyone in the life of a child can make a difference – family, teachers, coaches – anyone. That one positive, supportive relationship can help the child to take risks that they may feel uncomfortable to do without the support around them.

Seek help: Our children need to know that it’s okay to ask for help. Being resilient doesn’t mean that you solve things or do things entirely on your own. Let your child know that being brave, strong and resilient includes knowing when to ask for help. If there is anything that they can do themselves, guide them towards that but resist carrying them there.

Sense of competency: We can build feelings of skill and knowledge of mastery in our children. Nurture these feelings in our children as it can remind them that they can do hard things. Acknowledge their strengths, the brave deeds that they do, their effort when something is difficult, and when encouraged to make their own decisions. When they have a sense of mastery and competency, they are less likely to be reactive to future stress and more likely to handle future challenges.

Nurture Optimism: It’s essential to teach our children how to reframe challenges in ways that feel less threatening. Refocus on what we have rather than what we don’t have. Optimism is one of the critical characteristics of resilient people. If you have a child who tends to look at the glass half empty, show them the possibility of a different view.

Model Resiliency: Imitation is such a powerful way to learn. With wisdom, let your children see you deal with disappointment. Bringing them into your emotional world at appropriate times will help them know that sadness, stuckness and frustration are all very normal human experiences. When experiences are normalised, there will be a safety and security that will open the way for them to explore what those experiences mean for them, and experiment with ways to respond.

The great news is that resiliency isn’t a biological gift from great parents. It is something that anyone can learn to grow in themselves or their children. Resilient children become resilient adults, able to survive and thrive in the face of life’s unavoidable stressors.

Tara Waller
Head of Primary Years