Children who believe in themselves, who know both how to problem-solve, but also how not to be afraid of mistakes, can walk into life with the confidence they need to face the challenges ahead. We look at five ways to encourage emotional resilience in children…
Raising resilient children is an important part of being a parent. Children who believe in themselves, and who know how to solve problems but not to be afraid of mistakes, can face life’s challenges with confidence. ‘Resilient kids,’ psychotherapist Lynn Lyons told psychcentral.com, ‘have a sense they can figure out what they need to do and can handle what is thrown at them.’
But how to achieve this? It’s hard for parents to balance meeting a child’s needs, supporting them through challenges, and showing them how to deal with adversity and failure.
‘We have become a culture of trying to make sure our kids are comfortable,’ says Lyons. ‘We as parents are trying to stay one step ahead of everything our kids are going to run into.’ The problem? ‘Life doesn’t work that way.’ Children learn by making mistakes. They need to know that it’s okay to make those mistakes and that there is support when they do.
The best foundation is a robust, supportive framework in the home, from which children can take tentative yet brave steps into learning. Psychologists call this the ‘scaffolding’ that parents build: not solely to shield children from harm or uncertainty or mistakes, but to be a foundation from which they can launch their adventures.
‘In being kind to children as they face up to life’s inevitable disappointments, we can teach them to cope with frustration better,’ psychotherapist and author of The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read Philippa Perry told financialtimes.com. ‘Moments of connection, of being seen and understood, are important to all of us.’
Children are born with a degree of resilience. Your job as a parent is to nurture that and encourage it as much as you can. ‘Resilience comes from relationships,’ Dr Rangan Chatterjee toldThe Guardian. ‘Children need nurturing. It’s not a magical “inner strength” that helps kids through tough times; instead, it’s the reliable presence of one, supportive relationship – be it parent, teacher, relative, family friend or healthcare practitioner.’
Being a consistent parent is important for helping to develop a child’s resilience. Regular one-to-one time is a key way to build that consistency. They need to know they can rely on you to be there, to be present and to listen. Even if it’s just ten minutes, a couple of times a day, give them your full, loving attention.
This time needs to be regular and reliable, so a child will trust in it. That certainty will encourage them to try new things, and to take risks, but also to fail. When they make mistakes, they learn. They can do this only with your love and support as a safety net, knowing that nonjudgmental help is always available if they need it.
‘Acknowledge a child’s feelings and tell them that their feelings matter,’ says Amy Morin, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do. ‘That makes a big difference in whether they perceive if their feelings are okay – that it’s okay to be scared and still do something anyway.’
Talking with children about their feelings allows them to understand themselves better and to identify how they feel when things get hard. It also lets them know that they have the strength to make themselves feel better when they need to.
Don’t downplay how a child feels: even if it seems silly to you, it’s massive to them. As adults, we are still learning to be in our feelings. This is just as important for a child. When they can let their feelings move through them, they can understand that disappointment, fear, worry or sadness are parts of life, and not things to be afraid of.
‘View mistakes as opportunities for learning,’ says Sam Goldstein, psychotherapist and coauthor of Raising Resilient Kids. ‘Your words and actions must show that we all have something to learn from making mistakes.’ Counsel before criticising. Children make mistakes all the time – some big, some small. All are opportunities for learning, not something to be afraid of. It’s important that your child understands this. Where you can, share their frustration and their confusion. Then look at unpicking what happened and seeing what they could do differently. You will teach a child that mistakes are okay, and help them begin to solve problems and troubleshoot as they go through life.
Build on strengths
‘Children become resilient when they know their strengths and can focus on those,’ says Sam Goldstein. Resilience can be nurtured in children by doing simple things that encourage them. Always focus on their strengths, and how they can use those to overcome problems. A child that knows their strengths will be able to call on them in times of need, and to recognise their own potential.
As you build that supportive scaffolding, make sure it includes a strong sense of self-belief and self-awareness. Knowing what resources are at their disposal when problems arise helps them to feel confident that they can overcome adversity.
Be a role model
Children might not listen to what you say, but they echo everything you do. ‘Your kids are watching how you cope with your emotions,’ observes Amy Morin. Modelling a resilient approach to life is a great way for them to see it as the norm and to understand what it looks like.
This means owning up to your mistakes, sharing your gratitude even on bad days, talking about things you’ve learned, and dealing with setbacks in an accepting, honest way. Talk to your children about the traffic queue you’re in, the job you didn’t get, or the important news you’re waiting for. Be honest about what these things mean to you. Allowing your children to see you work through life’s challenges, and to thrive amid them, is the best lesson in resilience you can offer.