We often hear about the need to build resilience in our children. What do we mean by resilience? Why is it important? How can we help our children become more resilient?

Resilience is a word that means the ability to return to the original position or form after being bent, compressed or stretched. It also means the ability to recover readily from an illness, depression, adversity etc. Once applied to our children, it means the ability to recover from frustration, disappointment, mistakes, anxiety, rejection. Resilience is also used to mean the ability to persevere when things don’t work the first few times.

It is important for everyone to be able to continue despite setbacks. It is a life skill which everyone who is successful must develop. Nurturing our brightest minds includes allowing them to be challenged and to work through failure as much as to succeed. New learning requires us to go beyond what we already know and to stretch ourselves to achieve what others have not done before. Just like an athlete has to build up muscle tone over time to develop new skills and abilities, or a musician must practice their instrument to be able to play more difficult pieces, our children who have bright minds with great potential must also be challenged and allowed to fail and fight against interior resistance to develop their abilities.

What does building resilience look like and how can we help our children become more resilient?

Society today seems to be moving towards protecting people from feeling hurt or encountering things that they don’t agree with. In the world of social media, we can easily stop seeing those who disagree or challenge us and listen to only those who support us in our choices. These do not help build resilience.

Gifted children often show us they like to get everything right and tend towards perfectionism. Unfortunately, that may never be possible or may take too much time to be a reasonable goal. Instead we would like to ask our children to seek out challenges that make them stretch themselves, that feel uncomfortable, and that they may get wrong.

Games and resilience

Games are a great tool for giving children practice at losing (and also winning with grace). This helps children to learn that winning and losing are part of the game but not necessarily the end goal, as much as enjoying the time with others and trying to learn better strategies for next time. This will only happen if we don’t let them win or allow them to manipulate us with their outbursts of disappointment. There will always be exceptions to this with children with particular needs who may need some support in navigating how to be a good loser.

Playing sports or physical activities that are not their personal strengths is also a way to help build up resilience. In team sports there are many things to learn to navigate – the rules of the game; the skills; getting along with team members; dealing with unfair decisions of others; and losing to another team. Your child will build resilience through participating in activities like these if they are allowed to experience the feeling of disappointment or frustration as a normal part of life, just like being excited or happy or feeling tired and upset. It is just a normal emotion that we have to motivate us to try again.

Wait and observe

Parents can help their children by waiting and not stepping in to resolve issues too soon. Wait and observe how they deal with it. Sometimes it may include the child throwing something or screaming or walking way. Try to wait a bit and see if they return to try again without your prompting.

Observe the strategies they use to work through their frustration. Later when they are calm and not in the midst of the emotion, there may be an opportunity to talk about what happened and how they felt. You may notice that after they have ranted a bit they will come back of their own accord and try again. It is difficult, but I suggest you wait and watch. Intervening only if they are damaging property (that can’t be easily replaced), themselves or others. You may be surprised.

Continue to observe next time and see if they take longer or less time to work through the frustration. Later if you do talk about it, let them do most of the talking. Offer advice only if they want it. If they do not seem to be able to work through the issue on their own after giving them time, then you may need a more structured approach to show them appropriate ways to deal with these emotions.

Let them see your mistakes

Another great way to help children build resilience is to observe adults getting things wrong. Let them see your frustration and how you deal with your own reactions. By modelling how you deal with your own conflicts, you will be imparting skills to them.  This is just like you did when they learned to talk, eat on their own etc. As part of the modelling verbalise your thought processes and feelings. Don’t address them to the child, just talk yourself through the process.

When working with bright children, there is a great advantage because you can discuss and reason with them about why certain behaviours are important. Being with others requires many acts of compromise. This means that everyone gets some of what they want, most of the time. Imagine if you get upset and walk away every time you play a game and don’t win. Your friends may decide they would prefer to not play that game with you, as they like to win too. What if you decide to not do a school assignment because you can’t do it perfectly? Then no one will be able to see any of your great ideas, even if they are not complete. You could discuss how scientists find partial solutions that help move towards a better solution over time. Many inventors tried for many years and had many failures before they achieved a result that was profitable or useful.

We can help and support you

Australian Gifted Support Centre offers workshops that help teach explicitly some skills to build Resilience and how to Manage Big Emotions and Making and Keeping Friends. These are offered from time to time in different states around Australia. Check our website to find out more. If you think there is more going on with your child, it may be useful to try to discover what those other things are so that you can support any extra needs. Australian Gifted Support Centre offers a Comprehensive Developmental Assessment, which is a great resource for both parents and teachers.