Research shows resilient children benefit from more than just the ability to deal with schoolyard bullies. They have better mental health and wellbeing, too. From reduced stress, anxiety and depression, to more positive relationships, life outlook, social connections and more.
But if your child crumbles in the face of adversity, relax. Resilience is not only about those innate qualities, it’s about the environment children are raised in, too. So as parents, we can do a lot to build and nurture resilient children. Tweak your parenting style and both you, and your child will benefit.
“Resilience is not some genetically gifted, magical inner talent,” explains Cliff Battley, clinical psychologist and author of new book ‘Bully Proof Your Child’. “It is a skill; and like all skills, it can be taught and learned. When you build your child’s resilience you strengthen their ability to face and manage adversity, cope with tragedy, overcome peer pressure, handle bullying and deal with school-stress,” he explains. “Resilient kids can conquer frustration, fear, anger and sadness. And they are less likely to suffer the negative psycho-emotional impacts of depression and anxiety.”
Here, Cliff shares 10 tips for raising resilient children and bully-proofing them for life.
1. Spend quality daily time together
Resilience is born in safe and strong relationships. Creating love and trust, offering encouragement and reassurance and role modelling positive behaviours, is key to building resilient children. Connect with your child for fifteen focused minutes every day. Banish all distraction, especially your phone. Using your phone during one-on-one time together sends a message that they are not worthy of being your number one priority, and that distractions are fine. You don’t have to add one-on-one time to your busy schedule. You can connect over dessert, at bath time, while they play or when singing in the car. Use any situation you can to connect with and marvel at your wonderful child. If you make this your daily priority, they will learn to use this as a time to open up.
2. Regulate their sleep
Tired kids are confused kids. They’re often anxious, easily overwhelmed, forgetful and reactive. They struggle at school and arrive home cranky. Without the cognitive ability to self-regulate, sleeping is their only hope for psychological rest, emotional recovery and physical growth. If you’re fighting to get them to sleep then make bedtime attractive. Use it to plan the next holiday, a special outing or upcoming birthday party.
Tip: Smiling Mind have a range of free sleep and mediation programs for children and families.
3. Be the one who believes in them
We generally accept defeat and loss as good for building resilience. If your child can take life’s hard knocks now, they’ll be tougher later, when it counts. However true, if your child repeatedly fails, and they do so alone, they might well come to view themselves as a failure. That’s why every child needs a hero who will believe in them. An ever-present role model who encourages them to get up again and again; to have another go until they finally overcome their challenge. Do everything you can to be that person. Be the one to say, “Don’t worry … It’s going to be ok … I believe in you … You’ve got this … You have what it takes … I’m proud of you.”
4. Harness the power of patience
Building resilient children is not about jumping in and coaching your child through tasks and challenges. Resist that urge and allow them to evolve. Let them learn at their own pace. Let them make mistakes. If you repeatedly jump in and correct them, you’ll give the impression you think they are incapable. You’ll also teach them not to bother trying. The only things they will ever perfect are those they practice for many years, so unless it’s vitally important, be patient.
5. Teach them to learn from the past
Their ability to use past performance as a platform for making future choices will greatly influence their resilience. Help them master this process by exploring answers to the following questions:
• What did you do that helped?
• What did you do that didn’t?
• Who was helpful? Why?
• Who would you ask to help next time?
• What did you learn?
• What did you learn about yourself?
• What will you do differently next time?
• How did this help you?
6. Help them embrace the effort-reward relationship
The sooner you teach your child to embrace effort and hard work, the sooner they’ll be rewarded with success. Kids with self-discipline are outcome focused. They face each challenge knowing they have what it takes to get the job done. Fueled by willpower, they’ll push through short-term pain for long-term gain. Kids who function at this level choose wisely. Best of all, they show up … and the world is run by those who show up!
7. Infuse them with optimism
Optimism is the belief that good things will happen in the future. It is rocket fuel for resilience. Optimistic kids enjoy more encouraging self-talk than pessimists, are less likely to experience anxiety and depression and perform better in school. The good news is, optimism is a skill. So you can teach it. Here are five simple strategies you can use today:
• Role model positivity
• Write a daily gratitude list
• Reframe losses into lessons
• Laugh together as often as possible
• Tell them, “I will always be here for you.”
8. Let them fail
While supporting your child is essential, be careful not to do everything for them. Let them feel the sting of missing out on the team, forgetting their sports uniform or starting an assignment too late. The consequences they experience can be perfect lessons in taking responsibility and being prepared for future ‘real-world’ challenges awaiting them. If their mistake becomes unmanageable, support them in finding a solution.
“It’s okay. I’m here. Let’s work this out together.”
9. Nurture emotional intelligence
On any single day, your child can experience frustration, worry, sadness, loss, anger, uncertainty or fear. Their ability to make sense of these feelings and confidently respond with a productive behaviour, designed to generate a more comfortable feeling can mean the difference between controlled success or catastrophic defeat. Emotionally intelligent kids enjoy healthier relationships, higher self-esteem and greater resilience. More good news: like optimism, emotional intelligence is a skill you can teach.
10. Engage them in sport
There is no argument. Kids who play sport learn to handle pressure, work through discomfort and cope with defeat. They are generally very resilient children. They learn to self-motivate, follow rules and come back from defeat. Kids who play sport also enjoy higher self-esteem and greater confidence in their individual ability. And they understand the value of friendship, teamwork and strong support networks. Each of these factors are vital to building resilience in the face of adversity.
Finally, remember the golden rule to build resilient children: Your effort to be a better parent means you are already being a better parent.
ABOUT Cliff Battley: Cliff Battley is a clinical psychologist and author of the new book, Bully Proof Your Child, which helps parents to bully proof their children by demonstrating how to raise kids with superhero self-esteem and resilience. This handbook focuses on teaching parents how to raise children to view themselves as worthy, valuable and able to face life’s problems. It also shows parents how to teach their children to competently deal with being bullied using a non-combative and positive approach. The book also offers helpful tips to identify and deal with cyber bullying.