How to raise resilient kids

Parenting and resilience expert Maggie Dents hares her tips on how to nurture our children’s ability to bounce back, again and again, from whatever life throws their way. 

resilient kids

Resilience is arguably the best weapon we have in our arsenal. When life lobs us a curve ball, it softens the blow, slathers our bruises with a soothing balm and sets us back on our feet, ready to face the next challenge stronger and wiser. As adults, we are (hopefully) at least proficient in, if not masters of this spring-back maneuver… but what about our children? “By developing emotional and psychological buoyancy in childhood, they’ll have a better prospect of being able to thrive as adults, rather than just surviving,” says Maggie Dent, author of Building Children’s Resilience. 

Although it builds naturally, Maggie – a parenting and resilience expert by trade – observes that symptoms of modern life, such as inactivity, a sense of entitlement and overstimulation, undermine our children’s ability to stockpile resilience. “Our modern lifestyle has destroyed the ‘whole village’ pattern of raising kids,” she says. “Parents now have sole responsibility for raising their children and that brings with it a high cost, as kids become individualistic. The result is our kids are more stressed than they’ve ever been, and we’re seeing very concerning increases in the number of children and teens succumbing to anxiety, depression, obesity, low levels of social and emotional competence, and issues of self-regulation.”

But it’s not all bad news. According to Maggie, we’re also seeing a shift from very intensive (aka helicopter) parenting and heading in the way of kinder, fairer and more gender-neutral parenting styles. “Essentially, we need to allow our children to experience life in all its glory and to see failure and setbacks as teachable moments. A return to more adventuresome outdoor play is another key element to improving the resilience of today’s children.”

Maggie shares some of her tips for building resilience in our kids: 

START STRONG

“Resilience starts with a stress-free pregnancy, with loving support and good nutrition. Research has shown that stress and trauma in utero can impact us later in life. When children are very young they need good nutrition, but also safe, nurturing care within the family circle – that includes lots of healthy attachment and safe touch, reading to children and plenty of uninterrupted, unstructured play.”

SLOW DOWN

“When our children are very young, it’s really important that we slow life right down and allow them to develop at their own pace, and give them predictable routines and lots of time in nature. Essentially, respecting our babies and toddlers to move and explore the world through all their senses in the company of others is a great way to nurture authentic growth on all levels.”

KEEP PLAYING

“Play is crucial right through childhood, as it teaches us social and emotional competencies, physical capacity, cognitive skills, risk and reward, and it gives us moments of enormous joy.

As our kids get older, we also need to be building their life skills, too, so depending on their age, they gradually do more and more for themselves and to contribute to the family. They need meaningful involvement with positive adults, because they are constantly forming their beliefs and self-concepts based on the adults around them.”

EMBRACE DISAPPOINTMENT

“When I was a kid, pass the parcel had one prize in the middle, so lots of children got to experience the sensation of disappointment in that moment. Now it’s common for every layer to have a prize and we’re cushioning our kids from that opportunity to experience a small disappointment. If we keep protecting them all through life and they experience their first disappointment as a college student, the disappointment will feel much bigger and the stakes will be much higher.”

EMPOWER YOUR CHILD

“When our kids fall off a bike, instead of rushing over and scooping them up and saying “Oh no, are you okay?’, we can instead say something like, ‘Oops, looks like you’ve had a fall. Do you need my help or are you alright to get yourself up and get back on your bike?’ It’s a subtle difference but it’s about empowering them to help themselves. Reassure your kids that mistakes happen to everyone and that family is always there to help make things better. ‘We’ve got this!’”