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Teach Your Child Resilience

As a parent, your first instinct is to protect your children from, well, everything. If I keep them safe, you reason, they’ll be fine.

Unfortunately, this may not be the case. In protecting them from everything, you may be stopping them from learning one of life’s most important skills: resilience.

“I define resilience as the happy knack of being able to bungee jump through the pitfalls of life,” says Andrew Fuller, psychologist and author of Tricky Kids . “So when the tough stuff happens you have the elasticised rope that helps you rise above the setbacks.”

It sounds simple – and fun when you put it like that – but the fact is that there’s been a lot of talk among experts of late that this generation of kids is lacking resilience. Why? Much of it has to do with the fact that we go out of our way to make sure that every kid wins a prize. Think about it. When was the last time you went to a birthday party and every single child didn’t win something major in the pass-the-parcel?

“Kids like competitions,” says Fuller. “They love a challenge. Parents need to get over the fact that everything needs a prize and a winner.”

Of course, it’s not that simple. Children today live in uncertain times along with the rest of us. “The world’s more complex and adult worries are pressing their way down on to kids,” says Fuller.

All the more reason to teach our kids to rise about the rough stuff. And the good news about resilience is that it can be taught.

Where do I start?

Maggie Dent, author of Real Kids In An Unreal World, believes there are 10 essential building blocks for resilience. Some are as simple as good nutrition, setting boundaries, playing with your children and making them feel loved.

Responsibility
She also believes, however, that parents need to take more responsibility. “It’s your responsibility as a parent to teach your child life skills,” she says. “You can’t hand that over to someone else. If you want your child to be polite, it’s your job to teach them. One such skill is developing a sense of humour – can they laugh at themselves? Do they feel free to tell you when they’ve made a mistake? Mistakes are a sign of learning. Teach them that and how to laugh about it later.”

Create a Tribe
For Dent, one of the best things that a parent can do to help their children learn resilience is to surround themselves with a ‘tribe’ – a group of like-minded people who form a loving circle around the child. “We now rely largely on two parents, sometimes just one, to create the environment in which a child will thrive,” she says. “By surrounding yourself with people who have the same values that you do, you provide a stable world for the child and a number of adult allies to whom they can turn.”

Independent Thinking
Fuller agrees that a sense of belonging is critical for resilience. He adds that, as a general rule of thumb, it’s good for parents to say that they’re not going to do things for the child that the child can do for him or herself. “If they come home from school and are having a problem with friends, ask them what they could do to change the relationship,” he says. “Guide them – don’t try to solve it.”

Buoyancy is Best
It’s easy to think that a kid with a healthy self-esteem will also be a resilient kid, but the two don’t necessarily go together. “There’s a big difference between having a good opinion of yourself and being in the practice of making a difference in your world,” says Fuller. “I’ve seen kids who have really high self-esteem but don’t feel powerful to change things. They might have a great group of friends, but if that group decides they don’t want to play with them, they don’t have the resilience to go ‘okay, I’ll play with someone else’.

The only way to learn this, he argues, is to be put in the situation where you have to work out for yourself how you’ll make that difference.

“As much as we’d like to avoid [setbacks] for our children, we can’t,” says Fuller. “In fact, you can reduce resilience by trying to step in all the time. Kids are pretty resilient as long as we don’t muck them up by trying to solve every problem for them.”