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Raising resilient kids

24 September 2021

Raising resilient kids

Equipping young people to tackle the challenges of life

Words Lyn Beasy

Challenges, difficulties, failure and disappointments are inevitable in life. Over the past 18 months, particularly, we have all had to adapt and respond to the many and ongoing changes that COVID-19 has brought into our lives.

Resilience has been tested in both adults and children. Resilience is having the emotional strength to develop the skills to overcome obstacles in life as they arise so they don’t become overwhelming. Resilience can be learned, and we can all benefit from the results this brings.

Here are a few ideas to add to your parenting toolkit on developing a child’s resilience, as well as building your own.

Let’s begin with toddlers and pre-schoolers.

  1. Emotional regulation

Emotional regulation is not developed fully in children until middle-school years (grades 8-9), so younger children often quickly lash out as it’s the only way they can express a distressing emotion.

I’ve developed five steps to help with emotional regulation that you can also adopt with older children.

  1. Stay present. If you’re using ‘time out’, don’t see it as a punishment, depending on what caused the tantrum in the first place, and ensure it’s limited and age-appropriate. This helps a child calm down before you talk about what is happening.
  2. Use a soothing voice and language.
  3. Let go of trying to reason during the tantrum.
  4. When the child has settled, talk about and name feelings. For example, “You sounded frustrated that you couldn’t have that toy.”
  5. See if you can find a solution together.

Emotional regulation starts early and is an important factor in helping kids and adolescents build resilience.

  1. Get out of the helicopter

Model your own regulated emotions. Anxious parents will try to smooth over issues for their child, rescuing, fixing, to avoid their discomfort. Over-protecting children doesn’t help them learn how to solve their problems.

Our stress levels and how we express them can influence our kids. If we feel out of control in the moment, that can play out in how our children react. Self-awareness is important. Ask yourself, am I protecting them from being hurt or am I avoiding my anxiety and discomfort in seeing them fail?

  1. Be a coach

Instead of fixing the problem for your children, support and encourage them to have a go themselves. This will be an opportunity for them to learn how to do it, even if it means making mistakes.

Show or model the desired behaviour, such as tying shoes or unpacking the dishwasher. This is a process called ‘scaffolding’, where you model behaviour and then gradually allow them to do more tasks until they are learned. Ensure your praise of the child is specific and attached to the task.

Having a growth mindset is helpful – seeing challenges as opportunities to grow because you understand that you can improve your abilities by effort.

Focus on their strengths and opportunities and balance that with an acknowledgement of their weaknesses. Be realistic – they may never be a top footy player or performer if that’s not their skill set.

Additional tools

  1. Set boundaries and routines. Kids like structure. It helps them feel secure when life has some predictability.
  2. Focus attention. Look for the good in their behaviour and focus your attention there.
  3. Use gratitude as a way to focus attention.
  4. Think differently using the three Cs of thinking.

Catch the thoughts you or your child is having and watch for the language around those thoughts.

Collect the evidence: How true is this thought?

Challenge the thought: Can I think about this in a more balanced way?

We need to recognise the difference between developing self-esteem, self-acceptance and self-compassion. We can’t do everything and be the best, and that’s okay.

You don’t have to change everything all at once. What tiny thing can I do that will make tomorrow better? This can help build kids’ resilience as well as your own.

Lyn Beasy is a psychologist practising in New South Wales.


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