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Why do some children experience adversity and retreat within themselves, and others are able to achieve successes? Resilience, the ability to bounce back after adversity, how can it be improved?
The good news is that there is plenty that can be done to build resilience. We are not 'born resilient.' Although there are some traits within an individual which can help with resilience such as optimism, there is the potential to boost resilience in anyone.
A recent of review research literature and consensus from experts in the field of resilience, identified four key areas to focus on, to promote resilience in children. The first of these four areas is outlined here.
Exposing our children to small hurdles in their everyday life, will allow them to learn and develop skills which can be used to manage some of life’s big challenges (such as grief, health concerns, parental separation). Use Tippy’s ‘Bumps In the Road’ Activity with your child to work through some challenges they have faced and identify the skills they have employed to get past them.
Look for opportunities to ‘push the boundaries’ for your child in your everyday routine to broaden their experiences and gradually increase their capabilities. This tightrope we walk of allowing our children to take healthy risks is a fine line between pushing them out of their comfort zone, yet not overwhelming them with an unmanageable challenge; and the appropriate boundaries are constantly evolving.
Examples of age-appropriate challenges for younger children might be:
- Tackling play equipment in the playground unassisted (that is not going to have disastrous consequence if they don’t quite manage it!)
- Paying for something in a shop
- Speaking up and ordering their meal in a café
- Adapting to a situation that doesn’t go quite as planned
- Participating in games they will sometimes lose
- Navigating the social and cognitive challenges of imaginative, unstructured play with peers.
When our children find themselves in these challenging situations, it can require a lot of parental anxiety-management and self-restraint not to jump in and fix, pick the child up when they fall, or finish their sentences for them! If these challenges are to benefit our children, we must give them the opportunities to rise to the challenge and develop their problem-solving skills. Watch and wait to see if they pick themselves back up, struggle for a moment, and try again!
Even a lack of success in mastering a challenge is by no means a failure. Dr Carol Dweck (2008) talks of a growth mindset, where learning what not to do is part of the process of learning how to do something really well, to achieve mastery. To promote a growth mindset in our children, the focus needs to be on the effort they put in, rather than the end result which in contrast encourages a fixed mindset.
We are all more likely to persist in the face of obstacles if we are motivated. If you are finding your child is less persistent that many of their peers, try and choose activities which they are likely to find interesting and engaging, even if these are not the activities that you would choose for them. Additionally, research has found children’s persistence to complete a task is enhanced if they are made aware a task is tricky and going to take some real effort to make progress with.
Other areas of focus to boost resilience include promoting positive relationships, managing emotions and increasing responsibility and independence, and will continue to be explored in this Resilience Blog Series.
Sign up to our Weaverbirds newsletter for regular information on boosting resilience and other ways to support your child over life’s hurdles. Visit our website for activities and to create personalised stories to support difficult conversations.
For more information and the Science behind the blog…
Dweck, C S (2008). Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books
Garmezy, N & Devine, V T (1984). Project Competence: The Minnesota studies of children vulnerable to psychopathology. In Children at risk for schizophrenia (p 287–303), N Watt, J Rolf, & E J Anthony (Eds). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Seligman, M E P (2002). Authentic happiness. New York: Free Press.
Masten, A & Tellegen, A (2012). Resilience in developmental psychopathology: Contributions of the Project Competence Longitudinal Study. Development and Psychopathology 24, 345–361
Beyond Blue Ltd (2017). Building resilience in children aged 0–12: A practice guide.