Courage is what counts – the resilient kids movement.

resilience in kids

The other week I found myself looking into some team sport options for my kids. I’m a first timer on this front and so I found myself in some of the most unexpected conversations. During one conversation in particular, I was assured multiple times, that their club was not competitive; that the children would not be put in situations where they may fail.

This was said to reassure me.

I found it far from reassuring.

Most weeks (maybe days?) I see articles on Facebook about ‘promoting resilience in kids’. There are seemingly endless courses, conferences and articles about how to grow resilient kids. I see chat streams with school teachers talking about the ‘resilience classes’ that they now include in their curriculum. And as I read the overwhelming levels of fear among parents I find myself wondering, ‘where has this movement come from, why do we need it?’

It is perhaps an unpopular opinion, to suggest that we ought to stop teaching our kids ‘resilience’ as if it’s a subject you can learn in the classroom and not a life-skill you learn in the world …but that’s my gut reaction. And if I was being really bold I might ask, why are we teaching this ‘subject’ while systematically removing from our children’s lives natural opportunities for learning resilience in the real world? Why are we reassuring parents that their kids won’t be allowed to fail? We learn so much more from failure than we do from success.

Its like we’ve removed something from childhood and now have to repackage it it up, and replace it.

And I wonder at what point did this happen?

Was it when we started giving everyone prizes for participating?
Or when we decided that not only can children not walk themselves to school, but they can’t walk themselves from the school gate to their classroom?
Or that trees were too dangerous for climbing on?
Or that failure is bad?

We need to know how to fail, what it feels like to fall down and get back up again, to struggle and to have to work hard to be good at things.

Resilience in kids

I sat in on one of my daughter’s math classes last week, just as I’d started writing this post. The class was on maths puzzles and the kids were working in small groups to figure out each puzzle. One of the first things the teacher did was ask the kids what was going to happen if they got them wrong? Was the world going to end? No, they said (somewhat hesitantly) Was the ground going to open up and swallow them? No, they said (with bit more confidence). Did it matter if they got them wrong? No, he said. What he wanted, he told them, was for them to play with numbers, to experiment and see what they could come up with. He didn’t care if they couldn’t work them all out or if got them wrong, he wanted them to try, and to have fun with numbers.  (As someone who is not a maths person, even I felt relieved!)

I loved watching this, it felt like resilience training in a real moment. And I learnt afterward that this is called controlled floundering – where the kids are having to find their way through the problem, but have the support and assistance of a teacher as they do this.

I can’t help but think that as the way we parent has changed, and as levels of parental fear have increased that we have not just removed risk, we’ve also removed the opportunities for safe failure, safe pain, safe struggles. We’ve removed opportunities for controlled floundering in life.

Surely one of the most important lessons we have to learn in life if that we can’t always win, we won’t always be liked and in fact, we are not even going to be good at everything. I don’t mean to be a Negative Nancy, but our kids are going to experience all these things in our life (just like we do), and we all need to learn how to deal with it. If we can teach kids these things in the context of a loving and safe environment, whether at school or at home, then they will learn to be resilient.

Resilient Kids

I wonder if instead of focusing on removing risk we need to instead prioritise:

  • encouraging our kids to try, even if they fail
  • letting them climb trees and scrape knees, to learn how to play in the street safely
  • to make their own lunch
  • to go on camps and be OK with being away from their parents for a night
  • bringing back a bit of competition, learning that they can’t or won’t always win.

I wonder, if instead of telling parents that the world is a dangerous place for our kids (when in fact, it’s no more dangerous than it was when we were children) we could encourage each other that

  • our children are tougher than we think
  • that they thrive on responsibility
  • that they are longing to feel confident and capable

I truly believe that if children know that they are loved, and feel secure in their family that they can cope with disappointment, failure and even rejection. They can learn to sit with these feelings and not be overwhelmed by them.

As a parent, there is nothing more heartbreaking than watching your child struggle and even fail, but it is the most powerful gift to let them have those experiences. To teach them that they can get back up again when life knocks them over. 

Maybe the question should not be ‘how to grow resilient kids?’ but rather ‘why aren’t our children resilient?’ If we can understand that latter question, we can be mindful about the decisions we make and the fear we have.

Yesterday I had an opportunity to develop both my own and my daughters resilience. My almost 9 year old daughter rang me from school to ask if she could get the tram with a friend back to her place. This little friend catches the tram home by herself regularly and my daughter catches the tram with school a lot and with my husband on this particular (and direct) route. They are mature, sensible girls. My daughters friend and her family live quite near to us and the girls are often at each other’s houses. There was no reason for me to be worried about her doing this apart from human nature, human fear.

I could have let my baseless fear, my parental anxiety, stop her from doing something that I objectively knew was safe, and also knew would give her a sense of confidence. What a missed opportunity that would have been! Instead, I took a (metaphorical) deep breath, reminded her of the rules around catching trams and road safety and said yes.

My neighbour later commented to me as we prepared dinner and our 6 year old boys were climbing a tree at the end of the street, that I like to joke that my kids do these things because I’m too lazy to be a helicopter parent but that actually it’s all very  a considered and very deliberate choice by my husband and I. And she’s right, it’s incredibly deliberate. My kids are my heart, and their safety is paramount. What that doesn’t mean is letting my (mostly baseless) fears call the shots. Fear, much like guilt, is a barometer. We need to test it with the facts, not let it dictate our decision making process.

Sounds a bit like the resilience we are wanting our kids to learn! It seems that when you set out to raise resilient kids they aren’t the only ones who become students in that process! We have to be willing to step up and show resilience ourselves, if want to give our children the space to develop it.

How can we teach our kids resilience through they everyday lives? 


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