How to build resilience in children

boy riding bicycle
Photo by malcolm garret on

My youngest son is 4 years old and he wants to learn to ride his bike, without stabilisers.
From 2 years old he zoomed around our house and the garden on a ‘Bobby’ car, 4 wheels, progressing to a balance bike, 2 wheels at the age of 3. He has fallen off, several times, and although he cried through pain and frustration, he jumped straight back on and soon he was wanting a ‘proper’ bike. For his 4th birthday we bought him a green dinosaur bike with stabilizers which he loved, but as his confidence grew, he wanted to ride a bike like his 3 older brothers. Knowing that he has carefully negotiated this challenge in small but manageable chunks, my husband removed the supportive extra wheels.
Result, well he fell off, cried, abandoned the idea and returned to the balance bike. Then suddenly announced later that week that he was going to try again. He got back on and off he went, riding a short distance unaided.
Yes we still have accidents, lots of tears as he pedals up the hill and we were often told that ‘this bike is stupid’ but he continued, even up the steep paths. No, he isn’t perfect and he still wobbles and complains about this ‘bad tools’ but he perseveres under our encouragement, love and support. He doesn’t give up, he has shown resilience.

Definition of resilience – ‘doing well during or after an adverse event or period of adversity.’
It can also be described as how we can ‘bounce back’ from a setback or difficulty in life’s challenges.
Different children have different experiences of adversity and how children respond to adversity is dependent on their own coping strategies, how they self-regulate, their own confidence levels and their social skills.
Other factors in building resilience are how children have been parented, their family relationships and how the family connects. A child’s ability to be resilient can depend on the relationships of their peers and whether they are in an inclusive community, like school or recreational groups. This is because research has shown that children who have healthy thinking patterns and attitudes are better at brushing off disappointment and are willing to try again. We, as parents, teachers or leaders are role models and if we are able to demonstrate resilience, then the children in our care are more likely be too. It is up to us to show children from an early age that it is ok if we don’t succeed first time and that sometimes a skill is built on through practise.
Parenting is all about providing positive environments where children feel supported, are encouraged to take risks and learn and grow emotionally as they meander through life’s challenges. It is important we teach our children to understand that feelings will not last forever and that if they feel bad about themselves, they can easily self-regulate through positive self-talk and possibly find the positive or the humour in the situation. Laughing is a brilliant way to change emotions and raise the energy, as long as they realise the laughter is about the event and not at their expense. Being able to identify and articulate emotions is therefore an important factor in building resilience and those children who have positive mind-sets will ‘bounce back’ more quickly.
Children are often awestruck by people in the public eye, so educating them to the idea that many success stories have resulted from several set-backs and adversity. This is a wonderful, humbling way to affirm resilience and helps to teach them to set small achievable goals, then we must provide our children the opportunities to achieve the goals, remembering that small, bite sized goals are better than huge mountainous tasks, which may fail altogether. Again, reaffirming the concept ‘practise makes perfect.’
Some children find it hard to ask for support but we need to encourage them that it is OK for them to ask for help, in fact that’s how we grow and cement our learning. I also believe that if we can focus on our child’s strengths, pointing out their potential, we encourage them to persevere and be more resilient in their daily life and through adversity.
Nature is a beautiful example of resilience, below I have chosen some pictures which depict nature in adversity and how these insects and plants are able to grow, survive and re-build despite challenges. (Bees, cactus plant, spider-webs)

black and brown bee on flower
Photo by Raj Steven on
spider web
Photo by Pixabay on
america arid bushes california
Photo by Pixabay  on



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