When asking parents what their best hopes are for their child throughout therapy sessions, there is one attribute that comes up so often here at The Youth Fairy: RESILIENCE.
Perhaps they want their child to not feel so negatively affected by the inevitable setbacks that life brings, perhaps they want their child to feel more determined or to not give up on their goals so easily – and perhaps this might resonate with you too as you read this! Building resilience is such an important, but sometimes tricky, skill to teach our children and we often require a bucketful of patience and resilience all of our own!
It is our hope then that with this week’s blog we can arm you with the knowledge to help make this a little bit easier for supporting your child at home – and, of course, with school Sports Days in full swing and children dealing with those inevitable setbacks, there’s no better time to delve into this important topic.
We might know the image all too well: watching our child as they sprint towards the finish line, red-faced and sweaty, full of hope – only to be disappointed when their peers get there first. Perhaps tears or anger ensues as they struggle to deal with not winning this time. Or, perhaps your child struggles with resilience to such a degree that they have little confidence to begin with and therefore winning doesn’t even feel an option for them and so they don’t even try. Perhaps even, you were this child, where those inevitable sports days filled you with dread and, now as an adult you watch on, willing your own child to have the resilience you wish you had when you were their age.
Of course, Sports Day is just one example of how resilience (or a lack of) can impact our children’s lives and their sense of self-worth and confidence. As parents, we want this skill of resilience to filter through all that our children do so that they can learn to ‘dust themselves off’ after an initial setback and try and try again – with their confidence still intact. As one of our favourite Japanese proverbs at The Youth Fairy goes, we want children to learn to “fall seven times but stand up eight.”
So, what is resilience?
Whilst we may understand resilience as the ability to ‘bounce back’ when things go wrong or don’t turn out the way we anticipate, resilience can be more than that. It involves the ability for a child to:
- Stand up for themselves
- Give things a go and step out of their comfort zone
- Channel their inner strength
- Solve problems
- View problems as opportunities to grow
- Set and attain realistic goals
- Show empathy towards others
- Develop independence
- And ask for help when needed
The term ‘growth mindset’ has become a well-known phrase over recent years and it brilliantly encompasses the principles of resilience. When we create opportunities for children to develop a growth mindset, we help to instill the belief that their achievements and talents can be continually developed and improved upon through their own determination, hard work, and positive outlook on life. Put simply, this mindset nurtures that all-important skill of resilience.
What impacts a child’s ability to develop resilience?
Whilst studies have shown that a range of factors can impact a child’s ability to develop and display resilience when faced with a challenge or setback, all children can learn to become more resilient through the right support and in the right environment.
Factors that can affect a child’s natural tendency to develop resilience include:
- Having secure, stable relationships as children grow through childhood
- Watching positive role models
- Having good general health and positive sleeping patterns
- Feeling a sense of community
Even without all of these attributes, we can support our children to grow to become more resilient individuals.
So, let’s take a look at how the brain works to create that all-important skill of resilience:
- Neuroplasticity encompasses our brain’s ability to literally rewire itself based on our habits, the thoughts we have, and the experiences we encounter. It enables neurons, or nerve cells, to form new connections, and as a result, form, and embed new habits and ways of thinking.
- We can support children to develop more independence by reframing their thoughts and encouraging them to visualise more positive scenarios and outcomes. Our brain cannot tell the difference between imagination and reality, so just imagining something will encourage those neurons to wire together. In our sessions with children, we support children to develop more positive ways of thinking so that accepting challenges and encountering setbacks can be viewed as a learning experience rather than something to fear.
So how can I support my child at home to become more resilient?
- Consider the language you and your child use. When children become discouraged with their progress, we might hear them say things like ‘I’m not good at that,’ or ‘I can’t do it.’ Try to encourage them to add the word YET onto the ends of these sentences so that it becomes ‘I’m not good at that YET,’ or ‘I can’t do it YET.’ This simple word can make the impossible feel possible and shows children that success might just take a little more time.
- Encourage children to think of something they’re already good at. This can be a great way to open up a discussion about how they got to this point. Did they always find it easy? Did they achieve their goal the first time or did they have a few setbacks along the way? If their goal was hard to achieve, what motivation did they find to keep going and how did it feel when they finally achieved it? What would it look like if they were a small step better than they are now? Discussions like this are a great way to support children to find those strengths they have used before and to help them work out how they can use this to help them overcome the things they find hard right now.
- Model resilience to your child. Children notice the things we do far more than we realise and they are always looking to see how we, as adults, handle difficult situations or react when we try something new or hard. So, perhaps there has been a time recently when you have stepped out of your comfort zone? Or maybe you felt pleased with how you handled a situation you usually find hard? Talking to children about our own experiences and setbacks, where appropriate, shows them that this is a normal part of life and no matter how hard something might feel, setbacks are all part of learning and growing. Providing children with a positive role model in this way can be a really powerful thing!
- Encourage healthy risk-taking. Encourage your child to step out of their comfort zone every now and then and do something that feels a little uncomfortable. This might include making conversation or trying something new. If children always fear and avoid new situations that they don’t feel confident in, they internalise the message that they aren’t strong enough to handle hard things.
- Try to resist the urge to step in to help straight away. As natural as it might feel to try to help our children and make things easier, it is healthy for them to experience setbacks and challenges so they know they can navigate them. Instead, ask questions such as who do you know who can do this really well? What skills help them? What little step could you take to move forwards? What small goal could you set yourself so that you can improve next time?
- Embrace mistakes! We can’t win all of the time – and how boring life would be if we did! Support your child to not focus on the end result but on the journey they go on to get there instead. Embracing those inevitable mistakes nurtures a growth mindset where children can reflect on what they have learnt to help them out next time they are faced with a similar situation or scenario.
- Encourage your child to set goals for themselves. This might be to do with their hobbies or coping better with an upcoming challenge or situation. Encourage them to write their goal down and visualise themselves achieving it. You could even provide your child with a lovely visual, like a cut-out of a ladder or mountain, and work with them to plot what the small steps of success might look like as they work towards achieving their goal. As Youth Fairies, we support children to break their goals down into small, achievable steps and see time and time again how small steps lead to HUGE positive change. Setting goals in this way reminds children that success takes determination, hard-work, and the willingness to keep on going!
If you would like further support for your child, you can contact your nearest therapist at The Youth Fairy: https://www.theyouthfairy.com/fairies/
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