What does raising resilient children mean?

Written by Chris, Co-Founder of Annabee's Books and parent to Annabelle and Rupert

As we mark Children’s Mental Health Week, I am reminded about the world our children will face. A world that evolves at an ever-increasing pace, with new challenges forever coming our way. For parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and the village that’s needed to raise children, this can be a daunting prospect. After all, how do we ensure our children are able to cope with life’s ups and downs?

I know that I cannot fully prepare my children for tomorrow's world, however, I know that I can give them the tools to face their challenges with confidence, agility, and creativity, by helping them develop their resilience and self-belief in their early years.

What do we mean by resilience and why is it so important to early childhood?

Resilience is defined as the ability to deal with rejection, adapt to outside influences and external triggers, and to be able to overcome serious hardships. With statistics showing an increase in young people's mental health problems, it is more important than ever that we open a dialogue with families about how we support children to become resilient.

As adults, we may not be aware that we have become resilient to some situations and comments that at an earlier stage in our lives we found to be hurtful and stressful. It’s sometimes easy to overlook the enormous impact of apparently small incidents for our children, to whom these scenarios may mean everything.

It is perhaps helpful to consider resilience as a muscle or a skill set - with practice, it is something that can be developed and strengthened.

We know that early experiences affect the development of brain architecture, and that epigenetic 'markers' can switch genes on/off in response to stress, poor nutrition and other negative influences.
Read more

We also know that brain development continues after birth for a few years, with 700-1000 new connections forming per second! These synaptic connections formed before birth and in early childhood, form the foundation of a child's physical and mental health along with their capacity to learn and adapt to change. Read More

With this in mind, we can see why it is important to help our children build resilience as early on as possible.

What can parents/carers do (or not do) to build a resilience skill set for their children?

Resilience is not only about overcoming failure, rejection or hardships (and certainly not about learning to ignore it!). It is also about learning to face our fears and to see learning and growth opportunities in life’s challenges.

The number one factor in building resilience is a reliable presence/relationship. Children need to feel affirmed, listened to and supported above anything else.

We can help them feel this by (amongst other things) noticing and removing distractions when we are with them (where possible, putting down the smartphone, for example!). We can show unconditional love and sympathy by picking them up/soothing them when they cry. By laughing with them, not at them, we can be sensitive of their feelings whilst helping them learn to laugh at themselves.

If our children are given that strong foundation and the knowledge that they are loved, we stand a much better chance at providing an environment in which they feel comfortable to explore, take some risks, ask questions, challenge, make mistakes, move beyond their comfort zone, and do all those other wonderful things that help them to grow.

Below are some practical things that we are doing (or trying to do!) in our family. Of course there are hundreds more that we could do!

  1. Committing to developing resilience as a skill set!

  2. Noticing and removing distractions when we are with our children, or letting them know why we cannot give them our full attention and for how long (although their notion of time is still questionable).

  3. Making our children feel important and powerful by asking for their help and opinions and showing interest in their day and how they feel.

  4. Encouraging curiosity and experimentation. Answer those tricky WHY questions, even if their interrogation seems endless!

  5. Encouraging healthy risk-taking

  6. Discussing how we all learn from our mistakes, not just from theirs but also from our own

  7. Making these topics part of everyday conversations (by reading The Penguin Party for example!)

  8. Being a role model, asking for help yourself, saying sorry, accepting being wrong, being grateful, SMILING, telling our children what we have learned that day and what we want to do better or differently

  9. Reducing screen time prior to bedtime to help them sleep better

  10. Promoting problem-based learning

  11. Getting outside and spend time in nature. Challenging ourselves to see how many hours you can spend outside (Look up 1000 hours outside for inspiration.

  12. Taking things in good humour, showing our children that it's a good thing to know how to laugh at oneself. Children don't learn that by being laughed at!

Let's be honest, we certainly don't manage to do all of this all of the time, but being conscious of it is a start. What do you do at home? Is there anything that has worked well to build up resilience in your children?

Additional links:
Center on the Developing Child - Harvard
Positive Psychology.com
Hey Sigmund

Written by Chris, Co-Founder. (Follow him on IG @mostly_dadding).
Photos by Annie Spratt and Marisa Howenstine on Unsplash