What is Resilience?
Resilience is the ability to find solutions in difficult situations. It can help us to manage stress, deal with change, and work through the harsh realities that life sometimes presents. Building resilience in children is about creating a culture and environment that supports them towards supporting themselves. Creating strong and independent thinkers might even help to reduce the over-diagnosis of mental health conditions, and over-prescribing of potentially damaging/addictive anti-depressants. In the current state of mental health awareness, never has there been a better time to promote the development of resilience in children, in order to support good mental heath in the years to come.
Building Resilience in Children
The 5 strategies for building resilience in children listed below describe some of the ways to improve a child’s ability to manage their emotions, difficult circumstances and challenges they may face. Other strategies for building resilience and self-confidence from a military perspective are listed here in a previous article, which may also be relevant.
1. Encourage Physical Activity
Exercise is an obvious place to begin building resilience/mental toughness in children as it can force individuals to operate, and pursue success, outside of their comfort zone. Physical activity provides challenges that can be equally as (if not more) mentally demanding as they are physically. This crossover between competitive sport and real life challenges can be seen as a valuable tool in the development of resilience. Challenges presented in sport can instil values of hard work and courage, encouraging individuals to overcome positions of (relative) adversity. The analogy that this provides for everyday life and it’s many trials and tribulations is invaluable. In this environment, children can learn to appreciate the value of their own hard work, and their ability to succeed if they are persistent in their approach.
2. Breed Independence
Decision-making, independent thought, critical thinking. All things that should be encouraged when building resilience in children. The ability to problem-solve can be a pre-determining factor of resilience, highlighting the importance of independence. Adults can assist the development of such independence in children by allowing the freedom of trial and error. As adults, we need not solve all of our children’s problems immediately, but rather let them solve them on their own where possible. It also helps to positively reinforce these problem-solving skills by giving praise, highlighting the effective skills that the child has demonstrated. In short, let kids make mistakes (within reason). AND let kids solve the problems arising from their mistakes. The perfect segue for our next point…
3. Teach Accountability
Accountability is pivotal to a resilient mindset. If you are in some way responsible for your decisions, responses and circumstances, than you have the power to change them. On the contrary, if you are led to believe that these things are out of your control, then resilience goes out the window along with accountability. You are powerless, and can only hope for your problems to disappear… Teaching young people to own both their successes and their failures is an important step towards building resilience in children. You did it, now you fix it. If you can’t fix it, you can seek assistance to help fix it. But what you don’t do, is give up and wait for a solution to appear. Mistakes have consequences, the same way inaction has consequences.
4. Talk About the Tough Things
This doesn’t mean that you need to sit your 6 year old down and tell them that you’re going to die one day, just like grandma did. However, there will be times throughout a child’s life when they are faced with some of the more harsh realities of life. It is important that adults help children to make sense of these difficult concepts, like death and dealing with loss, rather than avoiding them. But it’s not just life and death, its everything in between too. Whether you like it or not, children will be competing for jobs, partners, houses and all the rest. And nobody said it better than Mick Jagger… “You can’t always get what you want”. A concept that the toddlers of the world are currently struggling to understand. Stand your ground, parent!
5. Lead by Example
One of the most important considerations of a positive culture and environment is leadership. If you are able to demonstrate the above attributes, than the children who look up to you have a better chance of doing the same. Resilience is the product of many positive attributes. It’s more complicated than it seems, and so developing it takes many experiences and years of good practice. The understanding is developed over time, and solidified by the continued displays of resilience exemplified by the actions of a great leader. Before we begin building resilience in our children, we must first develop it ourselves.
Nothing happens overnight. Building resilience in children is something that should be practiced throughout childhood, and hopefully adopted by the child as they transition into adulthood. Creating an environment for your child that is conducive of a resilient mindset is the first step towards fostering a generation of independent and empowered problem-solvers. Be sure to head over to our article on expert fatherhood tips as well, for more info on the importance of parental leadership. Thanks for reading!