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  • Michael Philp

How to help your child build resilience

Updated: Dec 18, 2019

One thing that I have become increasingly aware of is the need for us adults to help our children build and develop resilience. Resilience is the ability to cope with stress, bounce back from disappointment and adversity, and willingly take on challenges. It's a life long strategy, and it's one we can build on - it's not defined to your genes or being lucky. There is research to suggest that higher levels of resilience lead to lower levels of anxiety and depression.

Before we get into resilience further, just to be clear -

resilience is not the absence of feelings of sadness, anxiety, worry, stress, or anger. It's the ability to cope with these strong feelings effectively, which contributes to higher levels of optimism and happiness.


Martin Seligman, one of the founders of positive psychology, has developed a model of resilience called PERMA, which stands for Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishments. Let's break these down and look at ways you can implement in them in your home.

Positive Emotion

This is not showering your child with unnecessary praise, but taking time to focus on moments in the day that brought a sense of joy, curiosity, engaging in enjoyable activities or hobbies. Instead of asking "what did you do today", try "what was something that made you smile today?" or "what did you play with your friends today?". Positive emotion is also about being optimistic, or developing a growth mindset (see here for more information on growth mindset) to focus on a sense of improvement.


Engagement is about being in the moment and fully engaging in activities we enjoy doing. Children are naturally curious and in the moment - usually when we have to be somewhere in a hurry! Young children will stop to look at a snail or smell a flower. One way to build engagement is to encourage this - what do you notice? Take a moment to notice what you can hear, see and smell.


This can be hard for children who are more introverted or shy. However, developing positive and supportive relationships is important in developing resilience. We can do that as a family - taking an interest in our child's day, their interests and activities, and describing this to extended family members. We can ask about our child's friends, and encourage them to join groups. For more timid children, we may need to support them to engage in a group and accept that it might take longer, but give the feedback on the effort they did.


Meaning can be about what we do, the relationships that we have, or how we cope in adversity. It is often about something that is 'bigger than we are'. We can develop a sense of happiness when we engage in activities that are meaningful. That might mean volunteering, fully engaging in a passion, or deeply connecting with friends. We can encourage children to be considerate of others, for example by donating a toy or food at Christmas.


The last one in the model is accomplishment, but by accomplishment, I would like to highlight that it is not the emphasis of the outcome, but on the journey to developing mastery. Again, this may incorporate a growth mindset. We can develop accomplishment by helping our children to learn new skills - get them in the kitchen learning how to make pancakes; give encouragement on how they kept trying even when they fell off their bike; notice how they kept trying and practicing at their math homework.

In summary, resilience is a lifelong skill of coping with difficulty and stress, and being able to bounce back or persevere. As I've been writing this blog, I've thought about how we can engage our children in more meaningful activities, not just passive ones such as tv or videogames (there is room for those, but we could probably reduce it). It does require some effort on our part, as important adult figures, to cultivate and encourage resilience, particularly through our language and the activities that we set up for our children. It means being present and connecting with our children to foster these skills and help them through the difficult times, knowing that these skills will help them in future. And, it also requires a sense of patience within ourselves, knowing that we are not always going to get in right, but we can try again the next day.

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