Ways of Building Resilience in Children
- written by Helen Williams, a family counsellor and parent educator from New Zealand
How do we go about building resilience in children?
Recently I asked my ten year old friend, Millie, if she understood what 'resilience' meant.
She told me enthusiastically that in her class at school, resilience is
a 'keyword' taught by her teacher and that resilience is about our
She illustrated this with a story about getting an
answer wrong in class and feeling embarrassed, but then deciding to
have the courage to answer the next question because she could have it
right this time.
Seems to me this is a very clear explanation for resilience.
Other words describing resilience are:
buoyancy elasticity flexibility toughness
We are talking here about our mental and emotional capacity. What a
wonderful skill to equip our children with. How much better equipped is a
child with an understanding of resilience in a future full of change?
Building Resilience in Children:
For our children to have this mastered, we have to have allowed them
opportunities for mastery. This means stretching them at
times, encouraging them towards situations that may mean failing at
first, so that they can search for and find that inner toughness that
allows them to bounce back and to try again. It means
understanding and experiencing staying power, and harnessing
determination for endurance.
- Building resilience in children is another way of
describing emotional stamina
Long hikes in the bush, or going camping for instance, help children to
understand the need to 'keep going'. Providing motivation is the
parents' job, allowing our children to experience tough moments helps
them to build endurance and to experience resilience.
Encourage your children to feel proud of their achievements.
Resilient thinking means changing from negative to poitive thinking.
It means replacing "I can't" with "I'll do that again, Let me have another try,
Let me look at that differently".
Parents, as first teachers, can model this to their
children by having an awareness of resilience in their own
In order to learn how to take responsibility for their own actions,
children need to know they are cared for and to feel safe and hopeful.
learn about physical endurance by being exposed to it
Parents who keep a sound perspective on life allow their children to
see both sides of a situation and then provide a hopeful and optimistic
outlook for them. This goes a long way toward building resilience in
Children need to speak out their fears and feelings and to be 'heard'.
This means taking the time to listen and hear what they are
saying. Reflective listening not only encourages
them to speak out, it also encourages you to really understand what
they are saying. Children can easily interpret situations so
that they become quite different to reality. Take the time to tune in
so you can help them to tune out any misunderstandings.
They know when we fudge issues and often have a clear antenna for
honesty. It is always easier to bounce back from a crisis when we know
the truth, then to be left with many ponderings and doubts that can be
blown out of proportion. Truth telling is about building resilience in children.
Children need to know that they belong to and can trust in strong
community activities which build self discipline, continuity and flow
and provide feedback for their output.
Learning dancing or music, participating in sports teams, playing
family games, joining groups such as scouts and guides and enjoying
extended family activities, all provide ways of testing their
'elasticity and bounce back' ability.
- Tell your children the truth
Having regular one- on- one special time with a parent helps to create a strong sense of self-image for a child while reinforcing their self-confidence. Make this date time even more special by asking
the child to suggest the activity they would like. This way
parents get to know what is really important to their
children. Often parents do all the running with their
children by providing the ideas and suggestions.
regular one- on- one special time
Learning For Themselves
Some years ago my son ran in a cross-country race at his school which he knew I
was unable to attend.
However, after the race had begun, I discovered
my plans had changed so I went to the school to watch the race.
My son saw me in the crowd as he ran by. Later he told me that because
he thought I wasn't there, he hadn't put in any effort. Then, when he
realized I was there, he suddenly found the motivation to really
succeed. However, by then he had lost the opportunity to be near the
front. He ran hard anyway!
Now years later he remembers this race as an example which teaches him
many things - how to have pride in himself regardless of who
is watching, and how to bounce back and try, even though it seems
By building resilience in children, you give your children the
opportunity to master the hard things in life for
themselves. Don't do everything for them - it makes it hard
work for you and cheats them of opportunities for building emotional
and mental stamina.
About the Author:
Helen Williams is a family counsellor and parent educator from New Zealand currently living in Dubai, UAE, where she runs a busy practice called Counselling Dubai. As well as counselling clients, Helen runs regular Consistent Parenting and Becoming Authentic workshops. Helen has four children and is a proud grandmother and believes that being a consistent parent is both vitally important and totally necessary to ensure a happy family life. However, becoming a consistent parent is rather like trying to push water uphill if we are not consistent within our selves. Consistent Parenting Advice addresses HOW to adopt a firm, clear, consistent parenting approach, while enabling parents to enhance and increase their emotional well-being and become consistent themselves.