How to make kids more resilient

RACHEL DOHERTY

Social worker, teacher and the founder of Tweens2teen

Resilience in children and young people is an important skills for dealing with difficulties. There are plenty of things parents, school chaplains and youth workers can do to build it up.

You turn up to a meeting that you’ve only just heard about. When you walk in the room, everyone turns to look at you.

Have you had a wardrobe malfunction? Oh, no.

Then you’re told that everyone’s waiting for the presentation on your current project. Somehow that wasn’t made clear earlier. What would you do?

Whatever you do, it’s likely to be dependent on your personal level of resilience.

“90% of life is about remaining calm.”

DR CHRIS FEUDTNER

What is resilience?

Resilience is a word that lots of people use today when talking about young people. It’s the ability to bounce back from a difficulty or disappointment.

A teenager turns up to an exam having studied Chapter 7 and 8, only to find out that the exam was on Chapter 9 and 10 instead.

A resilient teen will make the most of the situation, and try and show that they knew a lot about Chapter 7 and 8. They’ll also walk out knowing that they’ve done their best and decide not to make that mistake again. They’ll also remember that they still have other exams or assignments to make up their marks.

But a teenager with low resilience will get upset during the exam or just walk out. They’ll talk about the situation being hopeless and appear down. They may also look to blame someone else for the mistake, like their teacher or parents. Wouldn’t that be a surprise!

Michael Grose says that resilient young people share four common traits. Independence, the ability to solve problems, a positive outlook on life and good social relationships. The more of these traits a young person has, the more resilient they’re likely to be when facing a challenge.

“Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected.” – Jamais Cascio

Why resilience is important

Resilience isn’t something that you have or don’t have. It’s more of a sliding scale of having more or less.

It’s also not something that once you get more you keep it. Resilience increases and decreases as we go about the business of living our lives.

Think of it like money. Most people have some money, even if it’s just a few cents. You can build up how much money you have, but you can also lose it.

People who have a lot of money can cope with more challenges than those who don’t have much. And people who don’t have any money can’t get lots of money overnight, well unless you win the lottery. There’s no lottery in resilience though.

Caleb’s story

In primary school, Caleb had quite a lot of resilience. He had a good network of friends and enjoyed playing in his hockey team each weekend.

He did well at school and felt comfortable that although he could do better, he didn’t need to or want to.

Then Caleb went to a junior high school that his friends didn’t go to. It took quite a lot of effort for him to make new friends, and some of those friendships didn’t work out.

The work got harder too. Caleb felt like he’d missed out on some things in primary school that meant he was well behind the pack. With more work to do, he decided to give up playing hockey.

By the time Caleb got to senior school, he was struggling to cope with any challenges. He’d get angry at his parents and sisters at the drop of the hat. In Year 11, Caleb’s dad died in a car accident. Not long after, Caleb was experiencing severe depression and struggling to cope with life.

The death of a loved one will batter the resilience of anyone. But people who have lots of resilience are able to process their grief over time and rebuild their life.

Have a look at Rose Batty. Her son was violently killed by her ex-husband in February 2014.

In January 2015 she became Australian of the Year and advocated for changes to how Australia deals with domestic violence. You can read an interview with Rose in The Monthly, but that lady has a lot of resilience!

How to help kids build resilience

As people who live and work with young people, we can help them move up the ladder of having more resilience. But it’s a slow process, and we have to be patient with them.

Here’s three tips for building resilience:

1. Model it

While you might think your teenagers have little respect for you, they are watching. They see how you cope with the unexpected and recover from a disappointment. They see if you get angry and blame others or if you work out a solution and then follow through on it. They also see if you turn things around to see them in a positive light or whether you let them get you down. Just because you think teens spend more time looking their phone that you, doesn’t mean they aren’t watching.

2. Point it out

Young people, like most of us, doubt their own skills and abilities. They also struggle to link past behaviour to current issues. It’s part of learning to become and adult and be independent. We do kids a great favour if we spot the links and help them to draw on what they already know to get through things. It tells them that they already have the solution to their problem.

3. Let them learn

Adolescence is a time for trial and error. In the current climat of avoiding risk, everyone tries to lessen the impact of errors. But we still need to let young people try to solve their own problems and sometimes fail. We should walk beside them rather than carry them. If a child spends all their money on something that breaks and has to save up again, they’ll have more respect for money than if you rescue them. Again, use your words to help them see what they have to solve problem themselves.

Resilience is one of those things that you can never have too much of. It’s not going to make a teenager cocky or a child arrogant. It’s a basic building block for handling the roller coaster of life though.

One of the keys to being resilient is having some good coping skills to help you get through difficult times. I’ve written an article on coping skills that explains them more. You might also find my article on anxiety interesting. One of the consequences of low resilience can be anxiety, so it’s worth knowing how to spot it.

What do you think? Have you got a tip for building resilience? I’d love you to share your ideas below!

What other coping skills have you seen work for a teen or tween? I’d love you to share your ideas in the comments.

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