Building resilience in our children

30 October 2019

We hear a lot about resilience, and we know that our children are moving into a more complex, uncertain and volatile world. So, how do we build resilience and coping skills in our young people?

Here are some important ideas from the research;

  • Role model resilience. It is not what you say but what you do that influences change in young people. Children learn by seeing how you navigate the ups and downs of life. 

  • Cultivate supportive relationships in your child’s life. Whether it is a friend, coach, teacher or family member, connection and social support matter. Resilient people have strong and positive relationships in their lives.

Building resilience in our students
  • Teach children to focus on what they can control. Resilient people think flexibly, optimistically and reframe challenges. Says Viktor Frankl, the one thing that we can always control is our attitude to any set of given circumstances.

  • Remind them that setbacks, challenges, and disappointments are a normal part of life.

  • Nurture a growth mindset. This is the belief that we change and grow through challenges and that there is a direct correlation between effort and achievement. Resilient people don’t see failure as something to be avoided. 

  • Don’t rush to the rescue all the time. Exposure to challenges, disappointments, and setbacks during school sets young people up to deal with stress in adulthood.

  • Let them know it’s ok to seek help. We are brave and strong when we embrace vulnerability and create connection in our lives.

  • Remind them that nobody is perfect. Not them and not others. 

  • Provide opportunities for your child to build their executive functioning (making decisions, problem-solving, controlling impulses). To be resilient, they need to use their pre-frontal cortex to regulate their emotional brain when facing challenges. Let them practice doing this.

  • Never underestimate the importance of focus on resilience. Resilient people focus on their goals and avoid distractions and multitasking. Creating strategies to manage technology wisely is essential for young people.

  • Exercise. This is a way to increase the chemicals that can calm the brain in times of stress.

  • Celebrate your child’s character strengths. Build feelings of competence so they have a sense of mastery and control in their lives. Resilient people believe they are effective in the world. It is called self-efficacy.

Building resilience in our students
  • Reframe stress; it’s not all bad. Short term stress is necessary and can be a call to action that puts children in the state where they need to be to achieve their goals.

  • Encourage your children to face fearful situations by taking safe and considered risks. Remind them that the courage they show in stepping outside of their comfort zone is often more important than the outcome. Character matters, a lot.

Building resilience in our students
  • Let them know that you trust their ability to cope through adversity. Believe in them. Give them agency. 

  • Teach them to understand that all emotions (positive and negative) play an important role in life. It is unrealistic to be happy all the time (or much of the time!). An emotionally intelligent person understands and accepts their emotions and feels comfortable talking about them with people they trust.

  • Give your child perspective. Provide opportunities for them to see how their lives fit into the bigger picture. Help them build empathy so they can keep perspective when navigating personal challenges.

  • Provide opportunities where your child can make a contribution to something bigger than themselves. Resilient people serve others.

  • Cultivate opportunities where they can find flow in their lives. This is the state where they can be in the present moment, use their strengths and are fully engaged in an activity or hobby. Space to play and be creative is important.

Students in an open and honest discussion with a teacher
  • Prioritise sleep. Young people should get 9 hours of sleep every night.

  • Focus on the ‘how’ not the ‘why’. When things go wrong (and they will) don’t focus on the why- teenagers won’t know why. Focus on ‘how’ they can do it better next time or ‘how’ they can fix the problem.

  • Encourage a grateful mindset. Gratitude is the antidote to our natural negativity bias and builds our ability to take a broad perspective. Positive emotions provide a buffer against stress. 

  • Teach forgiveness. We are more resilient when we can accept things and then move on. 

  • Listen to them, hold back on advice and be patient.

Building resilience in our children
  • And most importantly, provide them with unconditional love and positive regard.


How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.  Tough, New York: Houghton, 2016

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. A. Duckworth, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.

The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles. K. Reivich, and A. Shatte. New York: Harmony, 2003.

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. R. Baumeister, and J. Tierney. New York: Penguin, 2011.

Making Hope Happen: Create the Future You Want for Yourself and Others.  J. Lopez, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. C. S Dweck. New York: Ballantine Books, 2008

How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. B. Brown, Daring Greatly: New York: Penguin, 2012.

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