Resilience is an essential life skill for all, particularly children. It is the ability to recover from difficult events. Building resilience can help children learn how to cope, find solutions to problems and help them to effectively deal with both change and adversity. Life is full of obstacles, and those who are resilient, tackle and persevere through setbacks to achieve goals. It is a life skill which improves problem solving and mental wellbeing; in my experience those who are resilient are ultimately more successful. People often refer to resilience as bouncing back, but really it is more about bouncing forward in order to become stronger and better at facing the next challenge head on. Resilience applies to common struggles as much as trauma or major life events. Life is full is opportunities to bounce forward and find new ways of approaching challenges.

Whether its tackling tests, managing friendships and conflict or transitioning from one key stage or school to another, the resilient child will always be more successful. In school, children are taught to recognise challenge and difficulty and find new ways to approach it. For example, in great classrooms teachers do real time marking – marking as the child is working – and if a child gets a maths problem wrong they are informed and they simply try again another way. The child can then check with the teacher that they’ve got it right the second time and boom! Instant progress! Some children however find this process of accepting they’ve made a mistake very challenging, getting upset or downhearted. Great teachers talk children through this process in order to improve their resilience. Another example might be a child getting into an argument on the playground with a friend – for some children the upset of conflict carries on into the afternoon, affecting learning, whilst others are able to discuss the problem, make up and move forward. Using everyday setbacks to explore new and better ways to approach situations helps all children. Part of building resilience is building self-awareness, problem solving and in turn self-esteem. 

Building resilience at home

Give opportunities for challenge

Giving children the opportunity to face challenges and embrace failure is essential in building resilience. This could be anything from climbing a tree, to reading a challenging book together to joining a new sports club. Children must have the opportunity to find things difficult and potentially fail, in order to grow and find better ways of approaching things. They must be pushed outside of their comfort zones and allowed to work things out on their own, without adult intervention. 

Model resilience

Children learn behaviours they see – if they see their parents or carers being resilient, they mirror it. This is anything from controlling your emotions when something doesn’t go right the first time, trying new ways of approaching challenges and talking it through as you go. 

Let children find solutions

It’s easy, when you see a child struggling, to jump in and fix it for them. However this does not teach children how to problem solve. You can facilitate thinking processes by prompting with questions such as: why did this happen? What options are there? What could you do differently? But don’t attempt to fix every problem a child faces. This allows them to grow and find their own solutions – even frustration can lead to positive results, building perseverance. Consider how you teach a child to ride a bike. First, a lot of support is given, maybe holding on to the back of the seat and stabilisers attached. Gradually, then less and less support is given, until you finally let go.

Talk with your child

After a child experiences a setback, it is imperative to talk about the learning process. A child must recognise that they’ve achieved something, that they’ve faced a challenge and overcome it. It is in this recognition that they are more confident the next time they face challenge, in whatever form! Honest feedback and praise for the effort and hard work is incredibly important too. 

Children today will be doing jobs that do not currently exist, so developing the ability to problem solve, embrace change and adapt easily will support them to achieve and become happier in themselves. 

If I could instill one attribute in all children, it would be resilience.

About The Author

Sarah is a primary deputy headteacher in London and a believer in leadership which coaches, empowers and inspires. She is a regular contributor to leading educational publications.