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Can We Learn (and Teach) Resilience to Our Children?

Every fortnight I do a live radio interview on a local station here in the South of Ireland. The person interviewing me holds a PhD in English – a mighty achievement by any standard. She’s into words, their meaning, and how that meaning applies to our modern lives.


This particular week she wanted to discuss the nature of resilience: What is resilience? Can it be taught? Can it be learned?

What is Resilience?

I’ll always remember this interview well – not because it was super-great or unusual in any way. I remember it because of her expression of surprise when she heard my personal definition of resilience. And it’s this:

Resilience is NOT about being bullet proof. It’s about being shot, feeling the pain, soothing the wound, taking the time to heal and then, when we’re ready, re-emerging.

Horrible experiences have a way of helping us cope and learn so we can be better equipped to deal with future pain (and maybe better able to avoid getting shot!)

Can We Teach Resilience?

Yes! There are many programs available online and literally thousands of articles on parenting, education and psychology blogs. But I’m hoping to save you some time by sharing a common theme with you: The beliefs we hold about ourselves are key to our resilience.

A Formula for Resilience Is as Simple as ABC!

We think of Adversity (A) as leading naturally to negative Consequences (C). In the short term of course this is true. But what differentiates people who thrive though adversity from people who seems subsumed by it?


Enter (B) – Belief. What if our relationship breaks down? That’s adversity, that’s for sure. And it leads to sadness, hurt, rage, disappointment, exhaustion, stress. Some people seem to recover and perhaps go on to have a more fulfilling relationship than the one they had so deeply mourned. Others will fall into a deep depression from which they might never fully emerge, maybe going through a series of unsuitable unhappy relationships along the way.

Find great sources for RESILIENCE right on Amazon!

What Makes the Difference?

The belief system the person has about themselves, about their value, and about how the world works.

We recover quicker from Adversity when we Believe that we deserve happiness and that we are worthy. While relationship failure, for example, isn’t 100% our fault, we are willing to look at how we could have done our half of things differently.

We naturally recover faster when we are aware of the things that are still going well despite our collapse. When we develop a strategy or habit of asking the questions, we learn to cope and eventually grow from our own pain.

resilience

The person who collapses long term will be more likely to believe (as distinct from temporarily breaking down and thinking) that they had this coming or that they don’t deserve to be happy. This is when solutions are often seen as pointless, hopeless, because they’ve been put in the ‘probably won’t work out either’ box.

This is when we get stuck, ultimately feeling like victims who have no (and who won’t take any) control. An unpleasant consequence – one which a lot of us will have experienced.

teach resilience

How Can We Teach Resilience to Our Children?

There are 8 core ‘habits’ or ‘values’ that we can learn and teach to create resilience – you’ll see it’s not as hard as you might think, and you might even see that you already do them!

  • Accepting failure as part of the same line that  includes success is crucial to our development of resilience. In this way we can teach a child that ‘failure’ is often a step, not the last step, rather it’s one of many. This teaches the child to embrace mistakes and their humanity.
  • Connections: Teach your child how to make friends and that it’s OK to ask them for help.
  • Empathy – teach your child how to help others when they falter. This has a wonderful feel-good factor and is also empowering for your child.
  • Routine – is comforting to all of us and structure helps steady us when we feel we are falling apart, even during a break!
  • Breaks and self-care – are an important part of any routine. Whatever is troubling us, practical or emotional, we need time away to think about other things, to have fun even and re-energise ourselves.
  • Perspective and optimism Even when your child is facing very painful events, help them to consider the big picture and long-term outcomes. Mindful that this is not to dismiss, ( “Well, it could be worse”!) but to include (this is terrible right now I know. I wonder how things might unfold…what would you like to see happen next?)
  • Realistic Goals and working towards them, even in baby steps, is rewarding and encouraging. Unrealistic goals will have the opposite effect on us AND our kids!
  • Change is normal: even though it’s scary – especially for young kids and teens. But we can reframe change as an opportunity rather than simply inconvenience, loss or ending – which is how we often perceive it.

motivational inspiring quote resilience

How Resilience is Beneficial for Our Kids

Can you see how all children can benefit from being resilient? In fact, adults can benefit as well! When you feel the need to wallow in your sorrows and self-pity, think about your own self-worth and gather the strength you can from it. Perhaps catastrophes and downfalls in our lives all happen for a reason. So let it take its course and take advantage of what you can learn from it, rather than the alternative, which could involve a great deal of self-pity.

I BELIEVE we are all capable of these things. I believe we deserve them. And that right there is a recipe for resilience!

Sally O'Reilly

Sally O'Reilly

Sally O’Reilly is an IAHIP, ICP and EAP accredited Counselling Psychologist, Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor with nearly twenty years of professional experience. Her particular area of expertise and interest is work with teenagers. She enjoys a busy full-time private practice and has developed and facilitated a personal development, substance misuse and sexual health programme for teenagers for over 15 years. She is a regular contributor to national print and radio media.
Sally is also the co-author of Two Wise Chicks.
Feel free to follow Sally on: Facebook | Twitter | Linkedin

27 comments

  • My son is now four almost five so these lessons are important for me to share with my family. This is such a trying age for sure.

  • I think it is important to teach kids about failure and resilience at an early age. Kids need to know that it is okay to make mistakes but to own them. When they own them, they can learn from their mistakes.

  • This is definitely a great post. I think we should all be able to work on this more. I think it’s a wonderful thing to teach children more about resilience.

    • Thanks yes – well, it’s the definition that works for me and for my clients. Falling apart must sometimes be part of keeping it together! Thanks for taking the time to comment:) Warmly, Sally

    • Hi there and thanks for reading and Yes! I agree with you, I think all living creatures are inclined towards resilience. Maybe us humans are the only ones who unwittingly train it out of ourselves? I don’t know, but I believe that teaching the bounce back is doable (maybe because as you imply, its our ‘default’ – and can be very helpful! Warmest wishes, Sally

  • I think I have taught my children to be quite resilient. I always tell my kids that it is ok if they fail as long as they tried their best.

  • Resilience is something I am still working on as an adult! I think recovering quickly from difficult conditions is definitely a skill we should teach our children.

    • Natalie – #preach! I initially wrote this piece with adults in mind and so I agree completely. It’s a lifelong skill. If we can get in early as kids, we have a better chance – and thats why I tweaked the piece to focus on raising resilience! Thanks for reading, warmly, Sally

  • Great post and I love your definition of resilience! I think it absolutely can be taught but I think what lessons leave out – life gives us the chance to get some real life training in too.

    • Hi Joely and thanks for reading and commenting:) Yes, real life is the only teacher really isn’t it? And happily (or not) it will provide many opportunities for both learning and teaching! Warmest wishes, Sally

    • Hi Stacie – it’s a dinky way of thinking about it isn’t it? I do like a good formula to make things easier to think about. Thanks for reading and commenting – warmly, Sally

  • Resilience is such an important life skill to have, but I believe it takes trial and error in order to learn all about it. I had a rough childhood and learned resilience on my own…hope my kids have a different experience.

    • Hi Amanda, trial and error is what it’s all about. Isn’t it wonderful that you learned this by yourself? True resilience. We can only provide frameworks for ourselves, our kids and others, the learning and experience will always be individual. My guess is that your kids will have more support during their journey than you did – and that’s a lovely thing. Thank you for reading, warmly, Sally

  • About Author

    Sally O'Reilly

    Sally O'Reilly

    Sally O’Reilly is an IAHIP, ICP and EAP accredited Counselling Psychologist, Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor with nearly twenty years of professional experience. Her particular area of expertise and interest is work with teenagers. She enjoys a busy full-time private practice and has developed and facilitated a personal development, substance misuse and sexual health programme for teenagers for over 15 years. She is a regular contributor to national print and radio media.
    Sally is also the co-author of Two Wise Chicks.
    Feel free to follow Sally on: Facebook | Twitter | Linkedin

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