Building resilience in your children

Avoid comparing your child to others
Avoid comparing your child to others 

We hear a lot of talk about resilience in education, particularly when it comes to bullying. But building resilience in children starts much earlier than school age so it is crucial for parents to learn how to raise a resilient child.

Resilience is the ability to successfully manage life and adapt to change and stressful events in healthy and constructive ways.

Unmet needs are the main driver for inappropriate behaviour — helping children understand what need is unmet is unbelievably important for later life.

Where children fail to develop this ability, they can become aggressive, depressed, suicidal and engage in maladaptive coping strategies such as substance abuse and anti-social behaviours. 

From little things, big things grow
My resilience model outlines 10 key building blocks for 0–12 that build healthy self-esteem, and strengthen children’s ability to bounce back from life’s challenges.

These building blocks show parents ways to help their children build resilience for life. There are many steps within the blocks, and it is important to note there is no simple process that allows you to progress from one step to the next because all children are unique and their development is determined by many factors — seen and unseen.

It’s useful to think of these blocks as a part of a child’s toolkit for life. Teachers and childcare professionals add to that kit but it is up to us as parents to provide the basic tools.

10 Resilience Building Blocks for Children 0-12

  1. Positive, healthy pregnancy — the only building block we get just one shot at. A positive and healthy pregnancy does wonders for foetal brain development and for optimising a child’s chance for a healthy start.
  2. Good nutrition — not just important for physical growth. Children who are not introduced to sweet drinks and fatty, processed foods like crisps in the first two years will be less inclined to have an emotional or comfort need to eat them as an adult.
  3. Safe, nurturing care within the family circle — a distressed baby soothed often and quickly tends to become self-soothing as a toddler. It is important for children to develop strong attachments.
  4. Plenty of play — children who have been able to play freely in the natural world with little parental supervision tend to have stronger “seeking” or enquiring thinking patterns as an adult than children who have largely experienced structured or adult-lead play.
  5. Build life skills — effective teeth cleaning, eating with cutlery, blowing your nose and tying up shoe laces are all serious life skills that need to be taught with patience and compassion. Children can judge themselves to be dumb or stupid in the company of another child who has competency in these simple skills when they do not.
  6. Meaningful involvement with positive adults —constantly reviewing as parents or carers what is happening in children’s lives is very helpful to stay in tune with their development. We should avoid comparing children – it is disrespectful of a child’s individuality and essential human potential, and has the tendency to invalidate the child.
  7. Clear boundaries — children need to experience disappointment, challenge, failure and boundaries to fully develop interpersonal skills. They also need to have a voice, and age-dependent moments of autonomy where they have a sense of control over their life. However, too much will lead to overindulgent, permissive and unpleasantly challenging behaviour.
  8. Absence of stress — it is not appropriate to expose children to talk of mortgage stress, terrorism and other adult worries of the world, nor to expect them to operate at your pace.
  9. Self mastery — young children need help to manage strong negative feelings and learn to communicate their needs to significant adults. Unmet needs are the main driver for inappropriate behaviour — helping children understand what need is unmet is unbelievably important for later life. This is where we learn the difference between assertiveness, passivity and aggression.
  10. Strengthen the spirit  — childhood memories build patterns of expectation in the brain for life. Children who have experience repeated “magic” moments like night-time rituals, singing songs in the car, Easter egg hunts or picking tomatoes tend to anticipate positive and optimistic moments in life. The stronger a child’s imagination, especially under 10, the more likely they will be able to avoid depression, cynicism and criticism as adults.

These are just a few of the little things that become big things later in life.

Maggie Dent is a parenting author, educator and mother of four grown sons. Her latest book, Real kids in an unreal world: how to build resilience and self esteem in today’s children.