As a kid, were you raised to explore, take small risks, and learn from your mistakes (like jumping from a tree might cause a broken arm)? If so, you probably developed resilience quite naturally. But the world has changed. Of course, all parents want their kids to be safe and happy. But discouraging them from taking any risks can mean raising kids who aren’t prepared for real-life adversities. And in times like these, where kids are surrounded by uncertainty due to the COVID-19 situation, helping them develop resilience is more important than ever.
In risk-averse western society, building resilience in children can take a little input from parents. As a parent, you might be thinking the last thing you need is responsibility for yet another part of child-raising. But the good news is you can train your kids to be resilient during everyday life—no special programs or activities necessary! Plus, raising kids that are independent and able to bounce back from challenges can save a lot of time, energy, and emotional upheaval in the long term.
Why Resilience Matters
Essentially, resilience is the ability to respond positively to adversity. This could be the challenges of everyday life, such as disappointing test results or difficult family situations, or major life events or stresses such as bullying, mental health issues, or a pandemic. While you might want to keep your child from hardship, doing so is not only impossible, it can be counterproductive. Without any challenges, children don’t get the chance to develop skills for solving problems or learning from mistakes.
Mental health website Beyond Blue describes resilience as “a child’s ability to cope with ups and downs, and bounce back from the challenges they experience during childhood—for example moving homes, changing schools, studying for an exam or dealing with the death of a loved one.” They point out that building resilience isn’t just about getting through childhood, but developing the skills to deal with the challenges of adolescence and adulthood. It’s also important for children’s mental health, because resilient children can better manage stress. When stress is severe or ongoing, it’s a risk factor for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Resilience is shaped by both nature and nurture, they add. In other words, it partly comes from qualities we’re born with, like genes and personality. The other influence is our childhood environment, including our family, community and society. Thankfully, resilience isn’t something children have in a fixed amount and it’s never too late to start. Resilience can be developed over time by learning and practicing thoughts, actions, and behaviours.
Why Resilience Matters Most Today
It used to be that kids developed resilience through taking risks, like climbing the monkey bars at school and finding out that falling off hurts! Today, if one child experiences an adverse outcome, the monkey bars get removed. Fear of litigation has led to societies where many situations that pose a potential risk for children (even minor ones) have been eliminated—like playground equipment and school excursions.
Furthermore, kids today face new challenges, such as academic pressure that’s higher and starts earlier. Bullying is another major problem, with statistics from Broadband Search showing that, as of 2020, 73% of students feel they have been bullied in their lifetime, and 44% in the last 30 days. Cyberbullying is also on the rise and excessive use of social media can lead to low self-esteem. Given these issues, not to mention serious ones like COVID-19, it makes great sense to look for ways to build resilience in children.
13 Helpful Ways to Build Resilience
By now, hopefully you’re convinced that resilience is key for healthy, well-adjusted kids. Let’s talk about what you can do to help. This list of strategies is derived from research and trustworthy sites including Beyond Blue.
- Understand the value of resilience: Simply being aware is an important first step, so congratulations—you’ve already taken it!
- Build connections: Quality relationships—with both adults and peers—are key to resilience. Strengthen your child’s relationship with you by showing appropriate warmth and affection. In the first few years, physical touch is especially important, so give your child lots of cuddles and kisses. Connect by doing things you both enjoy—such as watching your favorite shows, going to the beach, or riding bikes together. Talk about what’s important to your child and ask about their concerns. Foster relationships with other supportive adults like grandparents, aunts, uncles, coaches, and teachers.
- Teach them how to make friends: Young children need to learn skills like sharing, taking turns, following rules, compromising, and self-control. Role model these skills at home. Encourage older children to get involved in activities where they’ll meet new people, such as sports, music, and art. Encourage your child to be a friend in order to make friends.
- Help others: Empathy is a vital skill for relationships because it involves sensitivity to others’ emotions and knowing how to respond appropriately. If your child’s friend or a family member is going through difficult times, brainstorm ideas for supporting them. When they’re ready, kids can get involved in age-appropriate volunteer work.
- Keep a routine: A regular routine can be comforting to children, especially younger ones who need more structure. Encourage your child to develop their own routines, like getting outdoors before starting homework, for example.
- Encourage independence: Develop your child’s autonomy by encouraging them to make decisions and complete age-appropriate tasks independently. Young children, for example, could choose what to wear and dress themselves. As they get older, they could make their own lunch and help with household chores.
- Focus on managing emotions: Resilience is about responding to emotions in a healthy way. Children respond to challenging events differently, so they may need different types of support. You can help by encouraging your child to talk about their feelings and acknowledging what they tell you. Help them use positive self-talk, self-compassion, and a positive attitude. Try to be a good role model for doing this.
- Develop strategies for dealing with tough situations: For example, talk about what they might do if they feel stressed about exams or left out of a friendship group. Develop problem-solving skills by encouraging them to come up with their own solutions
- Teach them self-care: By incorporating healthy strategies into their lives, such as eating well and getting adequate exercise and rest.
- Set realistic goals: Encourage your child to think of a goal that’s important to them and focus on accomplishing small steps toward it.
- Keep things in perspective: During tough times, help your child see things with a long-term perspective; that is, that there is a good future beyond the current situation.
- Create opportunities for personal challenge: Resilience comes through facing obstacles and managing success and failure. Taking “healthy risks” that are age- and developmentally appropriate builds confidence. Think about what you consider to be a “healthy risk” for your child and/or discuss this with other parents or their school.
- Encourage a “can do” attitude: Teaching your child to have a go from an early age provides opportunities for trial and error and learning to tolerate failure, which inevitably occurs at some point in life.
Finally, if your child is experiencing stress or hardships that are affecting their well-being, or you have any concerns about their mental health, professional support may be necessary. Never be afraid to ask for help if you or your child needs it.
About the Author
Sophia Auld is the editor of Australian Christian College’s blog. She has a Bachelor of Applied Science, a graduate diploma of Divinity, and is working on an MA in writing and literature. Sophia has been writing since 2015 across a range of industries and is known for her depth of research and accurate, evidence-based approach to writing. Two of her children completed online school through Australian Christian College. On weekends you might find her scuba diving with sharks, bushwalking, or hanging out with family. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.