Grit isn’t just good for icy roads – it’s also something that children need to deal with the world. As they grow up, life will throw all sorts of issues at them, and building up resilience – or ‘grit’, as some love to call it – is an essential part of coping with these problems, big and small.
As highlighted in a report by children’s charity Barnardo’s: ‘The promotion of resilience involves trade-offs – the goal is effective adult adjustment rather than eliminating the legacy of all childhood difficulties.’ In other words, teaching resilience doesn’t make problems magically disappear – but it will give children effective strategies to start dealing with those problems. And that’s going to be far more useful in the long term. To help you and them along the way, here are 15 practical ways to teach resilience to children of different age groups.
This is crucial as a first step. Ensure that you know what resilience is, what it isn’t and the benefits it offers before teaching children about it. This will ensure that everyone’s on the same page and make the ideas that you’re instilling seem far more concrete. Our previous article on resilience as a childhood superpower is a good place to start.
Use what’s around you
You don’t have to look hard to find great examples of resilience in books, film, music, news – utilise this and show children that resilience is in the world they’re beginning to interpret. As pointed out in ‘Building resilience in children aged 0–12’ (a guide from mental health support service BeyondBlue.org), it’s healthy to include ‘stories and books about a diverse range of people including women, people from a range of cultural backgrounds, and people with disabilities.’
Use the people around you
While books and music are great tools, family and friends are also invaluable. Tell children about times when people close to them encountered problems and showed resilience to cope with the situation. This will have even more of a direct impact if children can ask those people about it face-to-face.
Head to the great outdoors
Getting out and about can do wonders here. As well as marvelling at Mother Nature’s own shows of resilience (the tough old oak tree surviving a storm or the woodlouse curling up into a protective ball), exploring outdoors means dealing with small risks, braving weather conditions, new physical challenges, exercise – all of which will help build up reserves of that elusive ‘grit’, as an article about outdoor learning on Teachwire explains.
Make the most out of playtime
Problem-solving and resilience go hand-in-hand, so try and factor problem-solving scenarios into playtime where possible – toys that encourage creative play will help. This will encourage children to approach problems in a structured, practical way.
Give failure a big hug
Nobody enjoys failure, especially children. But accepting – and embracing – that failure is an inevitable (and recurring) part of life is essential for building resilience in children. It’s also a learning opportunity: okay, so that went wrong – what will you do differently next time?
Don’t fix everything
Difficult as it may be to put into practice, don’t rush to the rescue when something goes wrong. It pays to let children make mistakes and deal with the consequences, and is another way of encouraging practical, solutions-based thinking for the future.
An often-cited step on the road to resilience, building empathy gives children perspective and will help them to understand (and develop coping strategies for) negative scenarios and feelings. Nurture this by asking children questions: how do you think that person feels? What could you do to make things better if that happened to you?
Let them help, and learn from, their friends
Interactions with friends and peers will no doubt create problematic situations at some point, but these are situations that can be broken down and analysed in order to find a solution. Friends will also have their own negative experiences which other children will hear about; encourage children to help their friends find solutions when they’re going through tough times.
Ask ‘how’, not ‘why’
An article on ‘10 tips for raising resilient kids’ (based on the work of psychotherapist Lynn Lyons), on mental health network site PsychCentral, suggests that asking children ‘why’ questions isn’t helpful in problem-solving. Instead, ask ‘how’ questions: “‘You left your bike out in the rain, and your chain rusted. How will you fix that?’ [The child] might go online to see how to fix the chain or contribute money to a new chain.”
Turn chores into something more
Incorporating household tasks into a child’s daily routine is a great way of building resilience. Chores are about as far away from fun as you can get – but they have to be done. Familiarising children with this concept is a useful exercise in ‘battling through’ something they don’t want to do, and there’s even a sense of accomplishment once the task is complete.
Stick to your guns
As an article on BounceBackParenting.com puts it: ‘Do not give in when you have set a limit.’ This might apply to bedtimes, treats or saying ‘no’ when a child asks for something on impulse. Even if it means a meltdown, stand firm; this is a meltdown on the path to resilience!
Practice what you preach
Demonstrate to children that you too encounter problems and negative situations – and that you approach these issues calmly and with an open mind. As clinical psychologist Samantha Rodman points out in a piece for The Huffington Post, minor domestic disagreements are a common source of everyday conflict for families, but they can help teach children about conflict resolution.
Hit the kitchen
Confidence is key to resilience, and cooking (or even just basic food preparation) is one of the simplest, most practical confidence-building activities for kids. Whether it’s making sandwiches for a lunchbox or creating a recipe for pancakes (as a guide on self-esteem activities from Connecticut’s Whitby School suggests), there will be successes, failures and challenges, acting as a microcosm of experiences that help develop resilience.
Encourage mindfulness – by munching chocolate
Yes, it’s a buzzword at the moment, but mindfulness is a great tool for this purpose. It helps children deal with problems and negative feelings as they arise, and provides a starting point for resolving the issues. There are ample resources on teaching children mindfulness – a good roundup can be found on the Guardian Teacher Network, including a particularly appealing exercise involving chocolate. We’re pretty sure kids won’t mind trying this one – several times, if need be.
Tristan Parker is a freelance writer and editor, covering culture, lifestyle, arts and technology. He’s written for Time Out London (where he also spent several years as staff writer on the Music and Nightlife desk), easyJet Traveller, The Times Magazine, Clash Magazine, DJ Mag, Music Week and Collectively, among others. He’s also the editor of e-Access Bulletin, a website and newsletter focusing on digital accessibility.