Raising resilient kids
Updated: Jan 28
Resilience is not a trait you are born with, but an important set of skills we can all acquire through regular practice. There are lots of ways that as a parent you can help kids become more resilient. In this article, I share my insights on how you can raise children who bounce forward when challenged.
Kids don’t come out ready-made or pre-equipped to live life. Fortunately, they are always observing and learning, soaking up knowledge like sponges. One of the most important things they need to learn is resilience – the ability to respond to life’s challenges – but they need support to accomplish that. As parents, that’s part of our job, and we need to be patient teachers to do it well.
This can certainly be a challenge because, as parents with busy schedules, we are always being pulled in multiple directions. Sometimes I’ll recognise a teachable moment with my daughter and think, ‘I need to get down on my knees right now and help her work through this problem’, but then my son pulls my attention away. I’m not a perfect parent, but I am taking the opportunity to continue learning and improving every day.
The necessity of resilience
Helping a child in a moment of frustration, of fear, or when facing a challenge is the greatest way to teach resiliency skills that are precursors for expected adult behaviours. If we can help children to start practising these skills earlier in life, they may have a greater chance of developing more resilient behaviour patterns as they grow.
When you draw on resilience skills in the heat of the moment, a chemical reaction occurs in our brains that helps stem the ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ mode rooted in us biologically. When you actively help children to be resilient in the face of hardship, you’re teaching them how to control the frontal cortex of the brain. You're expanding their capacity to use their executive function to recover, to adapt, and to take on life’s ups and downs.
You can also help build the executive function of a child in other ways, such as playing board games that improve attention span, involve problem-solving and require patience. When children have opportunities to develop executive function and self-regulation skills, individuals and society experience lifelong benefits.
Set your kids up for success
How many tantrums or breakdowns have you seen occur when a child is over-tired or loaded up on sugar? The first thing we need to do as parents is to provide our children with the foundations to actually be resilient. If a child is not getting nutritious food, time outside, exercise, and consistent sleep-cycles, then their chances of building resiliency could be affected.
Empower them with decisions
I empower my children with the ability to make decisions, because this allows them to exert their independence in a structured environment. I’ll say, ‘We’re going to walk to school today, which way do you want to take?’ That way, they stop to think through the decision and can direct their life in a way that engages them. You can also use language like ‘What could be our plan b if it rains?’ This encourages them to think through options, and also to know that switching to a different plan is a normal part of life.
Encourage active play
If you watch children play, there can often be a power struggle between, ‘I’ll be the mummy, you be the baby.’ Or, ‘I’ll be the doctor, you be the patient.’ It’s good for children to work through these tensions, but if you’re noticing that your child only does things one way, then encourage a swap next time. We all need to learn how to lead and follow, so try to find ways to do this in your daily living. For example, we rotate who is the leader when we walk to the park.
Structured sport is another great way to teach resilience. Kids learn about teamwork, about putting in an effort, adapting in the moment and respecting both the rules and officials. This helps foster mental flexibility that’s essential in later life. Sport also teaches kids that, while they don’t always have control over life’s outcomes, they do have control over their internal response to adversity and can learn how to manage rising emotions, as well as reset and refocus. Learning resilience is something that takes time, and the more opportunities kids have to practise these skills, the better.
Provide safe relationships
Kids need to know where and who they can go to when they need help. As parents we should demonstrate that a range of feelings are normal and it’s safe to work through them. We need to remind them that learning and growing are sometimes hard, but we are here to love and support them, and that it’s okay to make mistakes – because you’re going to be there regardless. When you’re providing safe support, always try to focus on the situation or behaviour, instead of the child. Change ‘You naughty boy!’, into ‘I love you, but your behaviour right now is not your best.’
Be a role model
I know it’s cheesy, but my husband and I try to verbalise how we feel in difficult situations, purely so we can model resilience for our children. We actively encourage one another, show empathy or offer advice to demonstrate positive behaviours and reinforce the value of our family support structure. Give it a try, it can really bond your family together.
Family members, teachers, GPs – all of these people provide safe and meaningful relationships for our children. It's crucial that you teach children to appreciate, respect and leverage these support structures. Because, as we know, it may be one of the most important things they will need to draw on later in life.
Put it into practice
Let your children know that everyone in the family is continuously learning and growing. When you sit around the dinner table, open up the discussion. Ask, ‘What am I grateful for today?,’ ‘What did I learn today?’, and ‘What brought me joy today?’ As everyone shares, your child will realise that everyone faces and overcomes challenges, and there is still positivity in every day. It’s a handy tool to help them build up their resilience.
Originally published on www.onelife.aiavitality.com.au on November 30, 2018.
Alisa Camplin is an Olympic Gold Medalist, in-demand Keynote Speaker, Corporate Ambassador, and Human Performance Consultant who delivers results-driven Resilience and Human Performance Training and Development Programs. Connect with Alisa.