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  • Writer's pictureCaitlin Begley

Teaching Resilience

We have all heard about the word "resilience" and the importance of it, but in the context of children and teenagers, what actually is it, and how can we equip our young people with it?

The NHS define resilience as:

Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. The ability to be happy and successful again after something difficult or bad has happened.

Being a resilient person essentially means coping with life's challenges, and not letting them affect you so deeply for a long time or in a significant way. This can be dealing with daily stress effectively, or on a bigger scale, recovering from traumas.

This is then obviously a beneficial tool we would wish our children to use and develop from an early age. It means that when they inevitably encounter challenges, fears, and anxieties, their brains will be prepared to combat adversities and cope in a healthy way.

Here are a few ways to help your children build resilience, preparing them for the big, wide world.

1. Encourage (healthy) risk-taking

A healthy risk can be defined as something that pushes a child out of their natural comfort zone, but as a parent, you know will not cause great harm if they fail.

This could be encouraging your child to talk to a new group of children at the park, go to an after-school club, trying new foods, or playing an unfamiliar sport. When children challenge themselves socially, mentally, and physically, they will achieve new things, surprise themselves, and build new neuropathways that tell them "I can do it!"

2. Teach problem-solving

When encouraging resilience, there's a middle ground between leaving children to their own devices and solving all their problems for them. For some parents, the desire to fix all their children's problems themselves leads to greater problems in the future. And on the other hand, without any guidance or support from caregivers, children with no help solving problems will see every struggle as impossible.

Therefore, as adults, it is our job to model problem solving. Thinking out-loud to solve a solution involves children, and working through an issue introduces them to thinking processes they can adopt to help resolve difficulties they encounter in the future.

For example: Timmy comes home from school upset because he didn't get all the answers right on his spelling test.

Parent A marches to the teacher's classroom and demands she sets easier spellings next week or Timmy won't be participating in the test.

Parent B brushes Timmy's crying off and tells him to "grow up!"

Parent C comforts Timmy and explains that now he's learnt how upset failing a test makes him, he has a motivation to try harder next time. They will practice the spellings together but Timmy has to work hard.

As you can predict, parent C teaches resilience the best. Parent C doesn't take control to solve Timmy's problems without him (like parent A), and they also don't see Timmy's distress as an overreaction (like parent B). By carefully reframing Timmy's problem as something he can take a lesson from and fix himself, with guidance, parent C is teaching new habits for Timmy to refer back to when he encounters another situation that causes upset. He will eventually be able to work through problem solving himself, as parent C has guided and modelled him through the process. And the reward of Timmy (hopefully!) getting his next spelling test correct, will secure those habits into resilience.

3. Identify Emotions

Labelling, recognising, identifying emotions has endless benefits. Whether it be coping with anxiety, dealing with anger issues, or in this case, promoting resilience, recognising and teaching children what emotions they are feeling is a great start.

For children unfamiliar with anger, sadness, jealousy or worry, an experience that gives them these intense and fiery feelings may be scary and damaging, and some children may find it hard to understand why they feel this way.

By telling your children: "it's OK to feel like this, this is anxiety/anger/fear/etc", they begin to understand how their body feels and reacts to certain situations, and how they can cope and deal with this; it preps them for the future and makes them more resilient to deal with challenges if they happen again.

Lack of resilience brings about a plethora of problems in childhood, adolescence and adulthood, so it is a simply vital skill to encourage in our children.

Reports show children who lack resilience develop unhealthy coping mechanisms in later life, such as substance abuse and unhealthy habits, and are more likely to develop depression and anxiety. They are also more likely to experience health problems related to these mental health conditions, such as high blood pressure, obesity and a poor immune system.

Raising children with autonomy, opportunities for growth, supportive relationships and an understanding of their emotions is the recipe for a resilient individual.

You can read more about 9 simple ways to promote resilience here.


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