How and Why to Raise Resilient Children
We live in an exciting time when the fields of genetics, neuroscience and biology are coming together to create an understanding of “resilience”: how likely an individual is to create positive outcomes in the face of challenges. Resilience has often been defined as the ability to bounce back in times of adversity and to develop in a positive way when faced with setbacks (Dillen, 2012; Masten, 2009). It’s all about the ability to learn and grow from challenges, tragedy, trauma or adversity.
All human beings are capable of extraordinary things. There is no gene for happiness or success which means that each one of us carries the potential for achieving anything and everything we desire. It’s important that our children internalise this from a young age. We cannot always be there for our children but we can impart the skills and mindset that will help them face tough situations in a positive and effective manner. We need to equip our children to find solutions to problems, because life is never a smooth ride.
According to early childhood expert Karen Petty, one of the most exciting findings in the last decade or so is that we can change the wiring of the brain through the experiences we expose it to. The right experiences can shape the individual, intrinsic characteristics of a child in a way that will build their resilience.
Here are some specific ways to foster resilience and raise children who will be well-equipped to bounce back and prosper in the face of the inevitable challenges intrinsic to life:
Help children to build resilience by becoming more understanding and considerate of other people’s viewpoints. Stories are especially useful in this regard. When reading together, talk about the characters and ask children to tell how they might feel if they were a particular character. Talk about feelings such as scared, angry, frustrated, hungry, lonely, sad, etc. and have them change the story by having each “character” tell another “character” how they feel. Ask children to reenact the story, adding the phrase, “because I’m feeling…” to each line of dialogue. When children begin to see that other beings have some of the same feelings that they do, they may begin to identify those feelings in others and develop compassion and empathy, which are important qualities to have when faced with difficult situations.
Teach children that it’s okay to ask for help
In our individualistic go-getter culture, asking for help is sometimes mistakenly perceived as a sign of weakness. But it in fact points to keen self-awareness and the willingness to work together with others. Children often pick up the idea that being brave is about dealing with things by themselves, so it’s important to teach them knowing when to ask for help is just as important and necessary.
Cultivate healthy risk taking
When children avoid risk, they internalise the message that they aren’t strong enough to handle challenges, but when they embrace health risk taking, they learn to venture out of their comfort zones and experience failure is a natural part of life. Encourage children to take little risks that will help them grow such as trying a new sport, participating in events like a school theatre or dance performance, striking conversations with a shy peer or anything else that doesn’t naturally come to them.
Optimism has been found to be one of the key characteristics of resilient people. The brain can be rewired to be more optimistic through the experiences it is exposed to. If you have a small human who tends to look at the glass as being half empty, show them a different view. This doesn’t mean invalidating how they feel. Acknowledge their view of the world while also introducing them to a different one. For example:‘It’s disappointing when it rains on a sports day isn’t it. Let’s make the most of this. What’s something we can do on a rainy day that we probably wouldn’t do if it was sunny?’ The idea is to focus on what is left, rather than what has been lost.
The best way to teach resilience is to model it. We all encounter stressful situations and it’s important to show children how to use effective coping and calming strategies. For instance, deep breathing can be a good way to work through stress. Teach your kids that all feelings are important and that labelling their feelings can help them make sense of what they’re experiencing. Tell them it’s okay to feel anxious, sad, jealous, etc, and reassure them that bad feelings usually pass.
Giving young children responsibility for small things gives them a way to contribute to family life and feel good about themselves. Supporting children to participate in community activities also builds their resilience as it fosters positive relationships, provides them with direction in their lives, and gives them opportunities to develop their strengths and talents. Encouraging children to take responsibility and actively participate makes them less likely to misbehave due to boredom or to gain attention. It builds self-regulation and increases their self-esteem and confidence.
Lastly and most importantly, never miss an opportunity to let your children know that you love them unconditionally. This will give them a solid foundation to come back to when the world starts to feel wobbly. Eventually, they will learn that they can give that solid foundation to themselves. A big part of resilience is building their belief in themselves. That’s the best support they’ll ever have.
While it is important to love unconditionally, remember to curb your instant to smother and protect your child at every step. Sometimes, the best way to help children is to take a step back and let them figure things out on their own. When they fail or falter, you can be there to brush off the dirt and support them to keep going. This will remind them that they are loved, and they will try again.
To conclude, here are some movies which model resilience and they’re all available on Netflix, perfect for a weekend watch:
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius: When gooey green aliens kidnap all the adults in Retroville, it’s up to 11-year-old Jimmy Neutron to come up with a plan to rescue them.
Mulan: Disney brings an ancient legend to life in this animated tale of a tomboy who disguises herself as a man so she can fight with the Chinese Army.
Turbo: A speed-obsessed snail who dreams of being the world’s greatest race car driver gets his chance when an accident imbues him with high-octane speed.
The Emperor’s New Groove: In this animated Disney adventure, a South American emperor experiences a reversal of fortune when his power-hungry adviser turns him into a llama.
Angelina Ballerina: Pop Star Girls: Ballet is still the bomb, but Angelina decides that hip-hop is cool, too, when she joins forces with the Pop Star Girls to direct a hip-hop musical.
Stellaluna: When a cute baby fruit bat is adopted by a mama bird after being separated from her mother, she struggles to fit in with her new feathered siblings.
“You must first teach a child he is loved,
only then is he ready to learn everything else.”
– -Amanda Morgan