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Building Resilience in Young Children

by Dr Peta Lilley – CEO and Clinical Psychologist

Resilience, or the ability to overcome adversity, is an important characteristic to nurture in young children. We want kids to have a go, to pick themselves up when things do not go to plan, and keep going. In addition to self-esteem, which is an essential part of building resilience, it is a lifelong skill; it is not set in stone, and we cannot ‘achieve’ resilience, like a task to be ticked off a list. It can, however, be taught, and it is never too early to start. After all, the single greatest predictors of success are perseverance and passion – or, in other words, GRIT.

Resilient children will be able to:

  • Problem solve instead of give up
  • Bounce back from difficult situations and face the next challenge
  • Grow and learn from mistakes
  • Remain optimistic and strong in the face of adversity

Importance of letting kids have a go

Our first instinct as parents is to protect our children from suffering. However, if safety has been determined, this is not beneficial. Constructive discomfort is necessary for children to learn resilience. By swooping in and ‘saving the day’, you can:

  • Promote avoidance behaviours
  • Communicate that you don’t think they can do it
  • Enforce a lack of resilience and delay the development of important life skills

Kids will fall over eventually – it is an inevitable part of life – so it is important to allow this to happen when they are younger and well supported. This helps children develop the necessary problem-solving skills and resources they will need during childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. It will also help build self-esteem.

Strategies for building resilience

  1. Be a good role model (model the resilient behaviours you want them to develop)
  2. Praise the process, not the result (genuine, descriptive praise for effort)
  3. Teach emotion management (set limits, show that all emotions are accepted)
  4. Problem solve with your kids, not for them (brainstorm ideas together)

Want to learn more about building resilience? Here are some useful contacts:

Talk to your GP or other care provider Mental Health Advice Line (1300 280 7373)
Talk to your childcare providers Lifeline (13 11 14)
Contact a psychologist Parentline (13 22 89)
Contact an occupational therapist Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800)


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