How To Teach Your Child To Be Resilient

Whether it’s bullying on social media or not getting into a certain school, life is never plain sailing. But it’s how you deal with bumps in the road that counts, and as a parent, teaching your children resilience is something that's pressed upon you. Here, clinical director of Harley Therapy Dr Sheri Jacobson explains how to ensure your child is as resilient as possible.

By definition, resilience means being able to recover from difficulties quickly, and there’s no better way to teach your children to do this than by showing them how you handle problems. Explain to them the mistake you’ve made, what you would do differently next time and how you plan to make amends, if necessary. Most importantly, show them it’s not the end of the world, and that it's possible to get past a difficulty. When it comes to their own mistakes, acknowledge what they've done, discuss how they'd do it differently next time, show them how to make amends and move past it.

Children can get very caught up in what hasn’t gone right for them, or what they haven’t got – “I didn’t get invited to so-and-so’s party” or “I don’t have the right trainers, everyone else has them but I don’t”. Teaching them a sense of perspective can be a great tool. It’s a good idea to acknowledge their issue, then ask them to think about it from someone else’s point of view: “Maybe they didn’t invite you because they could only invite a certain number of people, or perhaps they didn’t invite you because you didn’t invite them to your party?” This should help your child learn to ‘zoom out’ of the situation. From there, try asking them: “How do you think you will feel about this next week or next year, or when you are old and grey?” By teaching your child to look at the bigger picture, they’ll learn not to dwell.

‘Self-care’ has long been a cornerstone of mental health and it’s a known fact that when you look after your body physically, you'll be in better shape mentally. Teach your kids this when they are young, and explain why it’s important to eat well, exercise and get plenty of sleep. Encourage them to go out for a walk and remind them they’ll always feel better for it afterwards. Explain why eating too much sugar can make it harder for them to concentrate, and why good sleep will enable them to cope better with a busy day at school.

“I’m not good enough” is something you often hear from children. “I’m not good at drawing.” “I’m not good at football.” “I’m not good at maths.” Whatever it may be, children’s brains are like little sponges and teaching them a ‘growth mindset’ – the knowledge that by applying themselves they can be better at anything – is a great gift for later life. Explain to your child that babies are not born good at anything, but they learn and practice as they grow, and we can do the same. And when they do succeed at something, make sure any praise is focused – “I saw how hard you worked on doing your fractions this week, and all that effort has paid off!” This kind of focused praise encourages resilience, too.

Nothing ever stays the same, so teaching your children to adapt to change is always a good idea. Even in their young lives, they will experience changing friendships, hierarchies at school, even things like breaking or losing a favourite toy can affect a younger child. Those who are able to acknowledge their sadness but move on and embrace the change will be more resilient. Ultimately, it teaches them to problem-solve and move past it. There’s a great video on YouTube called ‘Who Moved my Cheese?’ by Dr Spencer Johnson, all about two mice and two men, and their shared love of cheese. When the cheese runs out, it’s the ones who go in search of new cheese and ‘move on’ who are happier in the end, as opposed to those who are angry the situation has changed.

There’s no question that being compassionate and doing things for others improves your own mood and sense of wellbeing, so demonstrating that to your children and encouraging them to do the same is a smart move. Whether it be gifting their old toys to the local children’s hospital, visiting an old people’s home or baking cakes for charity, there are plenty of ways to turn them into outward-looking individuals who consider other people’s welfare before their own.

In the age of social media, we now have access to more people than ever before – so called ‘surface connections’. What has dwindled are the deeper connections that make you feel stronger and more resilient. We usually find these in our family and close friends – the people on whom we rely when life gets tricky, and who can rely on us in the same way. By showing your children more of these ‘invested’ relationships, and giving them that sense of security, you'll make them more resilient from the outset.

Having a hopeful outlook, and a 'glass half full' attitude will always stand you in good stead, so encouraging that from childhood is a good idea. “It’s a shame it’s raining today, but it’s okay, we'll make the most of it by making a camp indoors, and enjoy the sunshine as soon as it comes out again.” It’s all about accepting and appreciating the negatives, but keeping the faith that things will improve. There’s a fabulous book on the subject called ‘The Optimistic Child’ by the psychologist Martin Seligman (£13.59, Amazon) which teaches you all about this ‘positive psychology’ to help you raise a resilient child.

Whatever message you are trying to teach your kids, drip feed it to them over time. There’s no point having a deep and meaningful conversation about self-image or self-confidence only to never revisit the topic again. With children, you are much better off touching on the subject lightly, but often, so you slowly and gently teach them new habits for life.

It’s important not to over-schedule your children. Giving them time when they’re not doing homework, or sport, or reading – time to actually be bored – teaches them resilience because they have to find their own way out of the situation. So much creativity and innovation can spring from this downtime, so make sure they embrace it from early on.

It's easier said than done, but try to set a good example to your children. This can apply to everything from living according to good values and behaviours, to demonstrating self-control. For example, it’s a known fact that if a parent smokes, a child is more likely to in later life. The same principles apply to being kind to others and valuing yourself. Your children learn so much from observing you and the way you respond to different situations. If you shout, they learn to shout back, so it’s important to lead by example.

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