Caring deeply for our children, we want to arm them with a toolkit of skills that will prepare them for a fulfilled life ahead. We look to provide a language-rich environment through stories and songs, understand the importance of rapid times tables retrieval as a foundation in Math, and fill our children’s schedules with various ECAs and hobbies to develop skillsets beyond the walls of the classroom. While these will stand our young people in good stead to take on the world, there is one skill that is arguably far more important that tends to get overlooked, that of resilience. We hate to see our children hurt, lose, or fail, and it breaks our hearts (often more than theirs) but by rushing to the rescue to protect them, are we preventing them from developing much-needed grit?
Resilience is an active process, and nobody is just born with it. It’s not an endpoint but rather an intricate map of connections in the brain that dictate how an individual can handle stress. These connections can be actively strengthened: through experiences, behaviors, thoughts, and actions. Therefore, resilience as a skill can be very much learned.
So how can we facilitate this vital learning? Let’s consider the development of resilience as a two-way street of social navigation and negotiation. It has to be an interplay between children learning to navigate new experiences and adults learning to negotiate ways to expose a child to these challenges, from a distance, and within healthy risk parameters.
How might this look?
- Let your child feel what it’s like to lose:
Research often tells us that adopting an ‘everyone’s a winner approach’ is really in nobody’s best interest. Those that came last but still got a medal feel they don’t deserve it, and those that won feel their efforts are not recognized. Celebrate all participation, of course, but coming to terms with not always winning is a crucial life skill that is hard to accept if it’s first experienced in adulthood. Quick fails lead to fast recovery, so think little and often. If chess is too much of an investment to practice losing, perhaps a short game of Connect 4 would be better.
- Facilitate independence:
Choose age-appropriate tasks that challenge your child. Although it can be painstakingly frustrating to watch your nursery child put on their socks, to watch your junior child stack the dishwasher in a seemingly obscure fashion, or your teenager overcooks the simple dinner, we must learn to press pause. Try to resist adult intervention and allow for the learnings that these marvelous mistakes bring. By finishing that tricky task for them, we send a message that their efforts are not worthy and that challenging themselves is pointless- why bother when someone more experienced is going to swoop in and fix it? The complex process of learning requires confusion and problem-solving and encouraging our children to feel comfortable in this sometimes-uncomfortable space is an invaluable skill.
- Engineer opportunities for your child to fail:
In a time of relatively easy living, perhaps we need to actively expose our children to trickier situations. Encourage independence by showing that you expect them to take on responsibilities. For example, insist that they organize their belongings. Yes, they may well forget their swimming goggles but rather than coming to the rescue, let them swim without- chances are they’ll be in the bag next week! If your child loses multiple items, perhaps they can pay for the replacement to help them to learn the value of caring for their property. Whilst these learnings can be tough at the moment, showing that you believe in them can help armor our children with the emotional buoyancy needed to pick themselves back up again, a non-negotiable for becoming a capable adult.
- Let them know that you love them unconditionally:
This will give them a solid foundation to come back to when the world starts to feel wobbly. Eventually, they will learn that they can provide this solid foundation for themselves. A big part of resilience building is building your child’s belief in themselves- it’s the best thing they’ll ever believe in.
Assistant Head Senior School