In this week’s article, I am going to discuss building resilience and why resilience is important.

Building Resilience in children

Sometimes the hardest part of parenting topics are the ones that you never thought about. I know this through many years of life coaching teenagers. We all talk about sleep issues, toilet training, teenagers and sex or drugs. Yes, of course, I am not saying any of those things are easy. Far away from it. However, we already have myriads of sources of information on those. We all have friends who tell you “just get ready for the sleepless nights” or “wait until your daughter becomes a teenager”.

I respect people giving their best advice and aiming to help. However, prophesying about everything that will go wrong in the future is rarely helpful.

Anyway, (if you have read some of my articles you will know by now that I do ramble a bit) for good or for bad, we have time to think about those situations, and we can even start planning for those. However, in all honesty, we rarely do notwithstanding that building resilience is a very important skill for children and parents alike.

Guidance through a small crisis can help a child to build resilience.

There is a range of parenting topics that nobody tells us about. Fortunately, through life coaching teenagers, I see this lapse all the time. Here are a few examples: How do I react when my child is pushed in the playground?  Or when he/she falls face flat and has a bleeding nose? How do I help when their best friend is not their best friend anymore and they feel rejected and isolated? Or when they feel the teacher is not listening to them? What about when, most likely in secondary school, they struggle to fit in or make friends? These are some of the instances when it is priceless to have good parenting skills.

I know most of us will have mix feelings about those situations. Some will think: it is hardly the end of the world (“come on, stand up and go to play again), others will opt for sympathy (“oh, dear me, are you ok, come here with mum/dad”), others will become very directive (“what you have to do is…” or “next time you tell him/her…”).

It is not my role or my intention to challenge any of those approaches. I believe every parent is doing the best they can every day towards building resilience in their children. Successful parenting often requires that you approach every situation from a different angle.

My intention is to help you think from a different perspective. Think about your reactions and the underlying message that you are sending. Does it help your child in building resilience or not? Once we understand that underlying message, we can assess if it is the long term idea we want them to learn.

Here are two examples. In this case, I am using my own experience with my daughters.

Daughter number 1 is around 18months old. We are spending a beautiful day in the playground. She is understandably excited and pacing around. At a certain point, she falls. Nothing serious but enough to get a good fright (her and I) and a very loud cry. Here is a tip I learned in my first aid course with Red Cross ages ago; the louder a victim cries, the less priority is it to you. Well, don’t ask me why, but as I calmly walked the few meters distance to her I was considering what the heck to do.

So, I came up with an idea. I put her up and said a few soothing words, I cleaned her hands and chest of sand and then I said: this a naughty floor, isn’t it! I think we have to tell him he is naughty. Now, picture a 35 years old dad talking with a floor and telling him off. I just had no idea what to do or how to stop my daughter crying.

After I repeated “naughty floor” a few times and smacked it (careful here. In my enthusiasm, I overdid it and hurt my hand), to my surprise my daughter joined in. A few seconds later, we were both telling off the floor for being naughty and asking “it” not to do it again. Did this little drama teach you something about practical parenting and building resilience in children?

In between jokes, this became part of our family tradition. We told off the floor, the steps, the corners when we hit them, the tree, etc. I have been thinking a lot about what I did and how it impacted my daughter. Through life coaching teenagers, I have been able to change the orientation of children so fast that their parents start wondering the source of my magic. I am not going to claim that the response with my daughter is perfect neither is it one of the must-have good parenting skills. But it did two things;

1) deflected the attention from the pain

2) rather than playing the victim culture, it empowered her and helped her build resilience.

We are all human, and sometimes we get it wrong.

Building Resileince in children

As I write, I am thinking, maybe I should have changed the order in which I told this story. I am going from “success” to “not-successful”. Anyways, something tells me to tell it this way. It is a good thing to go from the known to the unknown, right?

Fast forward to a few months, or years—I wish I could be more exact—and my daughter is around 3 or 4 years old. One Sunday morning we go to the supermarket to buy a full English Breakfast for ourselves and visitors. The first thing we do is to get one of those large bottles of milk (the four pints, or 2.2lt). As we walk in, my daughter, eager to help says, “Daddy, can I help? Can I carry it?” I was conscious it was a bit on the heavy side, but who am I to stop her from feeling helpful? We spent a bit of time in the supermarket.

Every now and again I asked her if she was OK, “Yes daddy, I can do it”, she said, and we continued. As we approach the cashier we see two people ahead of us. The shop is almost deserted, and I am planning for a quick return home and a nice breakfast. Suddenly…. a massive splash and milk everywhere. I am not sure what I said or did. However, after checking she was fine, the shock, embarrassment, and confusion kicked in.

Building Resilience in kids is important from a young age

She said, “Daddy, it was an accident”.

Me, looking lovingly at her and finally having an idea of what to say and do, said, “Of course, honey. It was an accident”.

I wasn’t going to be hard on a well-intentioned 3 or 4 years old girl, was I?

Well, let me tell you. I think this was one of my biggest mistakes.

The moment she blamed the event on an accident (definition: an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury), she was not to blame. That was her one step slip from building resilience. Growing through life coaching teenagers I now realize that one thing parents battle with is finding the balance between love and discipline. Now, I am not in the blaming game, but the side effect of this is that she didn’t take responsibility. Therefore, it obviously wasn’t a learning moment. At that instance, my daughter was disempowered. Maybe I am being a bit strict, but that’s how I see it. Much about practical parenting is about looking beyond the immediate action. Successful parenting pictures the future impact of our decisions on the child.

Funny enough, for the following years—I am not making a causation point here, just a correlation—she was very clumsy. There was an accident in the kitchen with the glass of water when dropping my phone or when leaving the crayons on the carpet, etc.

So, what is that I learned? That to resolve something, we have to take ownership. If I am permitted to rate good parenting skills, this will be my top pick. The moment we do this, we are responsible and learn from what we did (not some vague accident). Each time we shift blame away from ourselves, we miss the opportunity to learn from that mistake. Most importantly, through learning, we create the magic word we hear so much: resilience.

And linking to the first example above: the moment we empower our kids to resolve an issue, we empower their confidence and help them in building resilience.

I can imagine some of you saying: he is taking it too far. Taking every single situation as a learning moment or making a big fuss of small things seems way over the top and tiring for the kids and for me.

And if you are thinking this, you are partly right, at least in my opinion. It can be tiring, and it can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be great fun too. Everything depends on how you do it and how much fun you want to have from those events.

How can we help young children in building resilience?

As with every parenting topic I write, I want to give you a few ideas on what to look for and what you can do. I am not assuming these ideas will work for everybody, but, through life coaching teenagers, I can tell that maybe one of them will work for you. Who knows, as you read you could come up with other practical parenting ideas that will work for you.

Now, I want us to picture a few good parenting skills and how you can adapt your style to help your kids in building resilience. Please take this as suggestions and always modify these ideas to;

1) your taste and how you feel about them

2) your child and what you feel they can accept at each point in time.

These are the most frequent advice I share with parents and teachers. I have heard loads of positive feedback about how it has helped their successful parenting drive. I hope they also help you.

Here we go: Building resilience in children

Resileince in kids is a superpower
  • Physical distance. It is normal for young kids to want to be on you or glued to your leg. As they grow, encourage them to extend the distance from you, allow them to go to the next aisle in the supermarket while shopping, to ramble in the park playground. Allow them to develop that feeling of looking out for themselves while being reassured of their safety by your presence. This could be a good excuse to have a night out with your partner while they are cared for by a trusted person. This sounds like nothing you have seen in courses on parenting topics, right? While it is important to teach our kids to be mindful of strangers, let’s do it from the point of caution rather than fear.
  • “Can you help me?” This is a great telltale. When surrounded by adults, Children will aim to avoid mistakes and a lot of time, they will ask for help. This could be opening a jar or doing homework. Successful parenting, in this case, is about teaching them how to do it. Subsequently, you let them do it. Ideally, they will be successful sometimes. It is important to remember that simply because they do things once, it doesn’t mean they feel equipped to do it again. This is what I call “how many times till”. What it means is: how many times do my child need to do something, reasonably successfully, before they feel comfortable to do it by themselves. Observe your child and make some assumptions. This is one of the good parenting skills you need to develop; being observant. Of course, there will be things they only need one or a few repetitions (most likely because it is easy or they’ve done the job/repetitions before). Other times, they will aim to avoid doing the thing. At such instances, successful repetition is critical for them to gain confidence and success. Be sure to guide them, but not doing it for them (or mostly doing it for them).
  • Silences. This is probably one of the most frustrating actions for parents. The child hides behind them and doesn’t talk to her auntie or her friend. It is also one of the, in my practical parenting opinion, hardest to overcome. At this point, it is crucially important to dedicate yourself to help him or her out of the habit. I am not saying we all have to be extroverts. I respect introverts and thank goodness they are here (I am not one of them). For me, the goal is determining if the child is happy with that behaviour or unhappy for the lack of connection. If the child is unhappy, we can do loads of things—which you will find in most parenting topics—to help them out. Encourage new activities, play days, bring new people (cousins, neighbours, kids, or classmates) home. Think about how to help them socialise in safe groups and slowly increase the changes. It is likely going to take a long time. However, you will see how eventually they adopt those new behaviours.
  • Obsession with winning. For good or for bad, our society is obsessively geared towards a winning or losing mentality. Let’s be honest, what is the most frequently asked question after your child’s Sunday football? “Did you win?” followed closely by “Did you score?” I understand these are important. However, what if we were to ask: did you enjoy it? What do you think you did well? How do you feel you played? See how these questions take away the pressure of winning or losing. The situation is that a lot of children feel they need to be at the top (score, class or whatever) to please their parents. On many occasions, the parents are not consciously promoting this idea, but the children still feel they need to do it. I don’t suggest you ignore the outcome all together (at the end of the day, we want them to achieve good marks). Nevertheless, balance the focus on outcome vs the ability they used to achieve it (concentration, creativity, determination, etc.). I am planning to write a detailed successful parenting article on this point. Look forward to it.
  • Playground, friends or school interfering. This is a similar approach to “can you help me?” when relating to third parties. This is especially critical when they are having friendship issues or struggle with a particular teacher. I am aware it is a delicate topic and, as with everything above, please, use your common sense and do what you feel is right. I am aware many young children will avoid conflict, and it is not the same as a sporadic argument with a friend that is consistently bullying them. However, here is a simple technique I took from one of my daughter’s school. Think TAG. T: tell them you don’t like it. A: ask them to stop G: get an adult. By using those three steps, we are encouraging children to take the first two steps in resolving conflict. Consequently, we are giving them an exit strategy (safety net) if it doesn’t work by involving an adult. But more importantly, we are allowing them to build resilience and confidence through their own accomplishments.

These are the most frequent advice I share with parents and teachers looking for practical parenting skills. I have heard loads of positive feedback and I hope they also help you.

Helping our kids to grow up into confident, happy and resilient adults is an everyday job. Some days we’ll get it wrong. That’s fine. We just have to use our own resilience and say, how will I do it next time? Other times we’ll get it right and feel really proud of our achievement. Those days we tell everybody! Just kidding. 

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