What makes a child resilient?

By Ben J Henry

Resilience in children

Over the past three years, no quality has been put to the test so thoroughly as resilience. When our carefully constructed worlds are shaken like an Etch A Sketch, do we adjust and recalibrate, do we make do with what we have and practice gratitude, or do we crumble? From friends and family to coworkers and neighbours, we’ve seen a stark difference between those who can handle the unexpected and those who cannot. So what about the children in our care? What can we do to prepare them for when their worlds are shaken?

“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” – Nelson Mandela

I deliberated over whether to include this quote. It’s done the rounds. But a deep dive into resilience offered nothing that captures it so succinctly. Social media draws us into a world of comparison in which we parade our new jobs, new houses, holidays and achievements through the spotlight—Here are my successes, judge away!—yet we know what lies on the timeline between each manicured shot: the struggles unfit for public scrutiny. What failures? Nothing to see here, folks.

While we’re happy for the successes of our nearest and dearest, what inspires us is how people cope when things don’t go as planned. The beach photo gets a like, but we respect the friend who picked themselves up and started again when life threw a curveball. Isn’t that what our children should aspire to? Not the shiniest house or the smiliest family, but the people in their lives who laugh when it’s easy and smile when it’s hard.

Bristol Academy of Drama 2

I asked some Bristol mums how they foster resilience at home. According to Allex, @wanderingmamastreets, “I build resilience in my children by allowing them to see me get things wrong the first time and try again to achieve them correctly. The message that we learn through making mistakes is said a lot in our household. It’s really important to remind them of times when they couldn’t do something like the monkey bars or a football skill and how they mastered it by practising again and again. They forget the journey to achievement which is as important as the accomplishment itself.”

As mentioned in my article on confidence, we are too quick to jump on every little success, rather than praising the effort. In a world of immediacy, we can teach patience through delayed gratification. Board games are excellent for honing this skill, encouraging children to slow down, puzzle through challenges and learn the benefits of playing the long game.

Another strategy for raising resilient children is to model gratitude. Some parents keep a gratitude journal with their children, taking it in turns to appreciate the little things in life that bring them joy; things too easily overlooked when times are tough.

At Clifton Private Tutors, we believe that one of the most practical and enjoyable ways to teach resilience is through improv drama. Giving children the opportunity to laugh through their mistakes in a safe environment teaches them how easy it is to start from scratch while eroding the fear of failure. Our next free improv drama class is at the Alma Tavern Theatre on Sunday 23rd April. Sign up here.

Try as we might, we can’t protect children from life’s challenges. As guardians, we need to put down the emotional bubble wrap and train our children to develop the skills required to dust themselves off and try again.