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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 ability to 'bounce back'.

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:

    • Building resilience in children is another way of describing emotional stamina
    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.

    • Children learn about physical endurance by being exposed to it
    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. building resilience in children
    • I Can't
    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 thinking.
    • Taking Responsibility
    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.

    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.
    • Speaking Out
    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.
    • Tell your children the truth
    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 belong
    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.

    • Having regular one- on- one special time
    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.

    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.
    running 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 pointless.

    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.