The nature of children’s health around the world is changing. There is now a ‘new morbidity’ occurring, with obesity, mental health conditions, self-harm and suicide taking centre stage. Having worked as a teacher and guidance counselor for the past 25 years I have had a front-row seat watching the dramatic rise in anxiety disorders, depression and suicide affecting our kids, so we need to discuss how to raise a resilient child.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, over 560,000 Australian children and young people have mental health problems and these statistics are reflected in the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Europe. If left untreated these conditions severely influence children’s development, their educational attainments and their potential to live fulfilling and productive lives.
What this means for us as parents are that our children are now part of the following statistics:
- 1 in 4 young Australians have a mental health condition
- 1 in 4 Australian primary school students are losing sleep through worry and anxiety.
- 1 in 5 Australian primary school students surveyed have been bullied 3+ times at school in the last 12 months
In order to address this epidemic, we need to teach our children the skills, mindsets, and tools they need to successfully navigate challenging situations and the unavoidable problems of childhood and adolescence.
Research has shown that resilience can be nurtured, modeled and taught to our children from a very early age. The following tips will provide you with practical strategies for raising a resilient child:
Let your children make mistakes
Allowing our children to make mistakes and feel discomfort from this can feel very uncomfortable as a parent. Watching them make mistakes is painful – whether they’re falling out with friends or off a jungle gym our instinct is to protect them. It is hard to watch them feel uncomfortable and upset. Yet, they learn important lessons from making mistakes and gain confidence when they bounce back from them. We need to teach our children that mistakes are part of the learning process, so they don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about getting something wrong. When they are given the opportunity to struggle and sometimes fail, we allow them to develop important social and emotional skills. Children who don’t develop healthy coping strategies when they make a mistake or fail are much more vulnerable to developing anxiety.
Do not eliminate all risk
Encourage your child to try new things, do things in a different way, change strategies if something isn’t working and take small risks with you there as a support and safety net just in case, they need some extra help. Eliminating all risks deprives our children from developing resiliency because they don’t have the opportunity to learn what their limits are in a safe and supported environment.
Express confidence in your child’s abilities
Often when they are challenged our kids will ask us for help. For example “mum can you draw a horse for me” or “mum can you open this packet for me”, when this occurs try encouraging them to give it a go by saying “You can do that yourself, give it a try”. I’m not recommending you don’t help them if they need it, what I am suggesting is to encourage them to give it a try themselves first as this will demonstrate to them that they’re capable of doing certain things without your help while still having you close by just in case they need you.
Help them manage their emotions
When children can label their emotions and talk about the big scary feelings they are having, these will dissipate more quickly. As adults we have the words to describe our feelings, our children don’t. We need to help them develop a broad emotional vocabulary so they can label the feelings they’re having. Neuroscience research has shown that when people can describe and label their intense feelings this has a calming effect on their nervous system and helps them recover from upsetting situations or incidents more quickly. Every emotion is valid though we need to make it very clear that angry feelings are OK but violent, destructive and aggressive behaviour is not. It’s OK to feel sad about not getting what you want but screaming at the top of your lungs and throwing yourself on the ground in the grocery store isn’t. We need to model appropriate ways to deal with big emotions and teach them specific strategies and tools they can use.
Nurture your child’s positive view of themselves
Help your child remember how they have handled difficult situations before by using the strategies and tools they have developed. Encourage them to view themselves as problem solvers who can navigate challenges confidently. Self-efficacy is the belief that you’re capable of achieving a goal, performing a task or managing different situations you encounter. Children with higher levels of self-efficacy are more confident and optimistic, have higher levels of motivation, decreased stress and increased resilience.
Teach your children to problem solve
When children encounter problems they often turn to their parents, or other adults, to solve them for them. It’s better to help them brainstorm different solutions they could try as this helps them cultivate their problem-solving skills instead of relying on you to swoop in and rescue them.
We are our children’s first and most influential teachers. They absorb both what we say and do like little sponges. If we model persistence and determination when we are faced with tough challenges on a daily basis, they will see what it looks like in real life