Particularly if your children attend an Edinburgh school, you may have seen a lot recently about ‘building resilience’ in kids. It’s been heartening to see schools really show commitment to helping children understand their mental health and emotional wellbeing. By developing resilience from the earliest stages, the hope is that kids will be better able to cope with life ‘ups and downs’. All of which, overall, has the most important goal of nurturing HAPPY children.
Why is it important to develop resilience?
Ultimately, we cannot protect our kids from everything in life. In some situations, they really need to have the skills to deal with problems themselves. When Katie first started preschool, a little boy told her that ‘girls were not allowed to play with sand.’ Rather than tell anyone about this (or indeed just throwing sand at the kid) she spent a few days randomly crying but couldn’t or wouldn’t explain why. She was just inconsolable with no apparent reason and I felt utterly helpless.
Resilience isn’t just about how to deal with situations that upset but also having the ability to bounce back. I may not being able to stop people from being unkind to Katie in the future, but I know I can prepare her to cope better in that situation.
How to help children become more resilient
The ‘building resilience’ program adopted by Edinburgh Schools goes through several ‘units’ focusing on things like making connections with others, having self-respect, adopting a positive mindset, taking time to reflect, talking things over, having an active life style and making a difference to the world around you.
I love all of these ideas and would expect most parents to be in a similar situation – but is it a case of ‘easier said than done’?
I’m actually on the side that it’s not actually that difficult but I do believe it takes time. When my eldest son started school, his lack of resilience was something that was noted each year. He’d fall in the playground and still talk about it a week later as an excuse not to join in. He wouldn’t start a task in class without adult help and would need content reassurance. I don’t believe this was remotely his fault – we had just done too much for him.
The summer we discovered 50 things to do before you’re 11 and 3/4s was really a turning point with his teachers actually questioning ‘what had we done with him.’ We had protected him from so many ‘typical’ childhood activities – like making mud pies or getting wet in the rain – that he just didn’t know how to deal with new situations without us. I hadn’t realised he had never attempted to climb a tree – but then he never had the opportunity. I was determined that this would not be the situation with the younger two.
Top Tips for building resilience
- Be resilient yourself. Don’t pretend that you don’t have problems but talk about them and show how you’re dealing with them. I don’t mean you should act like your child is your counsellor but equally, I think appropriate honesty is healthy. For example, my kids know that we can’t afford everything they want but need to plan our finances carefully. This isn’t a big worry as we live quite comfortably but they know there is a limit and we deal with it.
- Allow them to form friendships separately to you. I’m delighted Katie has all kinds of people in her life that she could turn to with a problem. I don’t just mean her teachers at school but rather a whole myriad of teachers from different activities. Thomas absolutely ADORES a teacher at his nursery and plays the guitar with gusto in an attempt to mimic him; I’ve never seen this two together for more than 2 minutes but know Thomas has great support from Michael.
- Let the kids have a time out. I really think it’s important not to over schedule and for kid’s to have down time too. I love watching Netflix or taking time for some yoga – so why wouldn’t they?
- Don’t be a helicopter parent! I now cringe when I hear parents at the park constantly telling their kids to ‘be careful’. As that’s exactly what I did with my eldest. I’d shadow his every movement and urge caution not to go too high or fast. Why?! What terrible thing would occur? Perhaps a bump or bruise? At worst a broken bone which really would be very unlikely given the padded tarmac surrounding really quite gentle play equipment! I would obviously prefer to watch Katie at dance or at Rainbows because I know she has an amazing time – but equally recognise she needs the space to engage without watching me!
- Be an active family. One of the reasons we love Junior Parkrun is seeing parents and children running together. Edinburgh has an amazing cycle path network which is also amazing for families; we have a bike trailer but it’s proved flat enough for Katie as she’s learning too. Katie also has swimming and dance classes, just as I attend spin and yoga classes, just as Mike attends football!
- Read great books. Think about all the great books that teach children the world isn’t always rosy but it’s actually totally manageable too: ‘Oh the places you go’ by Dr Seuss, ‘Zero’ by Kathryn Otoshi or ‘Dot’ by Peter Reynolds!
How to we cope with letting go?
When I watch Katie scale a wall at climbing or Thomas run at full pelt down a hill, my tendency would still be to shout a warning. But I know it’s better if I don’t.
I think the experience of having a child who did lack resilience helped. I can still see the lasting impact of being over protective (although things are vastly improved). Focusing on the outcome when things are difficult really helps me hold back when I’d like to interfere!
A prime example of this would be Katie’s nursery experience. She hated it for the first few weeks before really settling. She moved to preschool without batting an eyelid and is loving primary school. When Thomas initially started nursery, I was definitely apprehensive and worried BUT I had the confidence he would also be better for it.
Just as children need to feel safe and secure in their routines. I think adults need to as well! I wouldn’t sign up to a personal trainer without checking their qualifications – and I wouldn’t sign my child up for a class without ensuring things were properly in place.
The obvious thing to check is of course, that the teacher is PVG checked. But I also like to check the teacher is actually employed by the company rather than providing classes on a casual basis. Obviously from a morality point of view, it’s nice to know they’re being paid legally but this can have an impact on things like insurance as well.
As a teacher I wouldn’t dream of taking a child on a trip without two emergency contact numbers and medical details. So if a provider didn’t request it as standard it would have me questioning what was really happening. But with those things in place, I can be confident that my kids will be safe – so they can be confident to learn, form relationships, and engage with a situation that is then out with my control. Which is probably good for both of us!
If you’ve got any tips on developing resilience then I’d love to hear them! Let me know in the comments section below or come and find us on Facebook!