a guide:

how to create a resilient environment for your child

Here are some research backed ways that you can help your child learn what it takes to be resilient by shaping their everyday life experiences through the lens of resilience.

1: awareness

Psychologist Nathaniel Branden said, “The first step toward change is awareness.", so, if you want your kids to be more resilient, it makes sense to first make them aware of what resilience is. 

To help you do this we have created a little 'resilience awareness' activity that you can do with your child, or they can do themselves. It will only take 15 minutes and it's a nice way for you to spend some quality time together, whilst getting the 'resilience is important'  message across.

2: decisions

The act of making decisions will help your child to develop something called an internal locus of control

People with an internal locus of control recognise that the DECISIONS they make have a direct influence over the results that they get.

The opposite is an external locus of control; people with this believe that outside forces are responsible for their results e.g. luck, fate, a higher power etc... 

Part of being resilient is self-motivation, your child needs to develop drive and determination, and knowing that their choices influence their outcomes is key to this. 

It doesn't matter what the decisions are, it's the act of making them that counts.

We get our kids to decide as much as possible: what time to get up; what to have for breakfast (even if they have the same thing each day- asking them forces them to decide); what to wear; which route to take to school etc...

Below is a printable checklist that will help your child get used to making decisions, develop their internal locus of control and take more responsibility for themselves.

3: let them fail

We want our kids to do well, so it's bloody tempting to step in whenever they are about to 'screw up' and tell them what to do offer them our advice. 

Or, when they've just made a mistake, we come riding to the rescue and show them how to do it 'properly'.


Unfortunately, this problem solving approach can actually do more harm than good. In the first instance your child doesn't get exposed to failure and its consequences, so they don't develop the emotional resilience required to cope when you aren't there. 

And in the second instance, they never get chance to solve the problem for themselves because you've already done it for them. This means that they never learn how to problem solve and to think for themselves. 

This is really important because emotional resilience and creative problem solving are both key components of resilience.

So, what's the answer: Do you just let them flounder, and not help at all?

No, we wouldn't suggest that, kids need our help and guidance, we like to help in ways that teach them to be more self-sufficient:

  • DON'T STEP IN: Let them fail, as painful as this might be your child needs to desensitise themselves to the emotional effects of FAILING- you can help them pick up the pieces (see failure is feedback- below).
  • TEACH THEM: If the consequences are heavy and you feel that stepping in before is appropriate, teach them how to prepare for difficult situations, but don't tell, ask instead: "How are you feeling about this? What are your thoughts? What's your plan? Is it worth asking for help? Do you want to role play? What happens if things don't go according to plan?" 
  • FAILURE IS FEEDBACK: When something has gone wrong, again it's time to ask not tell: "How did that go? What did you learn? What could you do differently next time?"
  • ASK FOR THEIR HELP: Ask them to help solve some of your problems. Kids LOVE to help out, it shows them that you are a fallible too, it's great practice for them, and they sometimes come up with some brilliant answers that you'd never think of.

4: let them take risks

Following on from letting them fail, comes letting them take risks.

Our natural instinct is to protect our little treasures however, by clearing their path of any danger, we raise kids who are unprepared to take risks as adults.

The problem with this is that success often comes after you take action in the face of fear and risk. 

So, to help our kids to become more comfortable with 'risk', we love Gever Tulley's Fifty Dangerous Things (you should let your children do). It's filled with fun and crazy ‘dangerous’ activities from using power tools, licking 9-volt batteries, to driving a car. 

If we can help our kids to learn to act in the face of their fears, that is a very powerful skill. Also doing stuff that’s dangerous and scary helps your child to realise that they are capable of more than they thought possible, which helps them to build a positive self-image- an important feature of a resilient person.

Finally, life is about taking risks, in order to achieve anything, some risk has to be taken, this will teach your kids that dealing with risk is part of life and if managed correctly, has its rewards.

4: let them do chores

From the exciting to the boring (but no less important).

A study conducted over 25 years by the University of Mississippi found that:

" Those who had done chores as young children were more likely to be well-adjusted, have better relationships with friends and family and be more successful in their careers."

Great news... chores are actually good for kids- no need to feel guilty!

although if your child ends up like this then maybe you've taken it a bit too far 

Kids get to feel like they contribute, it teaches them responsibility and respect, and it also helps them to build feelings of competence and mastery, which in turn lead to confidence- all key traits of a resilient person.

If, in the unlikely event you are struggling to decide which chores to assign to your kids, here is a fantastic age appropriate list of chores (and chores related skills) from familyeducation.com.

Or if you buy our resilience manual THE BEST ME THAT I CAN BE, one of the resilience building activities in the FREE extra activities booklet helps your child take responsibility for learning KEY ACTIVITIES FOR DAILY LIVING.

5: unstructured play

Unstructured play helps to strengthen the area of the brain (pre-frontal cortex) responsible for problem solving, planningand regulating emotions, all of which are critical skills for RESILIENCE.

Why not make one evening each week a 'no screen' event and give unstructured play a chance to shine? 

This may not be the most popular decision ever, and there will be some resistance at first, but in our experience the kids soon find ways of entertaining themselves (funnily enough).

from this...

to this...

And the challenging feedback (ahem) you get will be worth it- you'll know deep down that you are helping them develop their resilience and their creativity and imagination too!

6: praise their resilience

Talking of feedback...

Praise is a powerful weapon to have in your parental armoury and used correctly it can motivate your child to develop their resilience.

Here is the full breakdown on how to praise your kids to be RESILIENT, but for the purposes of this guide, here's a quick example:

  • 1
    Praise ENTHUSIASTICALLY- mention that they have shown RESILIENCE.
  • 2
    SPECIFICALLY tell them what the praise is for. Important: praise only for EFFORT (how they did it) or PROCESS (what they did) and NOT the result they got.
  • 3
    Sign off ENTHUSIASTICALLY and enhance the message with a NONVERBAL flourish.

"Well done! You really showed your strength of PERSEVERANCE* there."

"I'm impressed, you really stuck with it until you finished even though it was a really tricky problem to solve."

"Great work... HIGH FIVE!"

*(we say perseverance because we praise using character strengths- explained in full in our guide)

8: start the day positively

The way that your child starts the day is extremely important, here's how we harness the power of neuroscience and positive psychology to help our kids start their day with a bang.

Firstly the neuroscience bit: Dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins are the neurotransmitters responsible for our happiness. But, we don't have to wait for them to be triggered- we can do it ourselves.
Our morning routine (see below) helps our kids to be in a positive and happy state as they close the front door behind them, ready to take on their school day.

Second, thanks to the work of Positive Psychologist Dr. Barbara Fredrickson we know that emotions tend to work in spirals; namely the emotion you feel right now in this moment, actually helps to create the next emotion that you feel.

Feel grumpy and angry?  You are more likely to notice something else that makes you feel grumpy and angry, thus perpetuating the mood and creating a downward spiral of negative emotion.

And as this works in exactly the same way for both positive and negative emotions, we like to help our kids start an upward spiral of positive emotions in the morning.

We have a little routine where the kids choose one of the items on the printable below and we all have to do it as we leave the house for school.

How does this help with resilience?

Fredrickson found that people who had high RESILIENCY, were those who could experience positive emotions even in the middle of stressful situations. Essentially, positive emotions help you to deal with what's happening so that you can move forward and away from the negative emotions.

THE KEY TO BEING RESILIENT...You have to have these positive emotions 'available' so that you can use them when needed. 'Available' means that you know these emotions through experience, practice and understanding. Which is why we practice them first thing each day.

9: end the day positively

We like to help our kids to end their day in a positive and resilient way too.

We live so much of our lives on autopilot that we never really stop to appreciate the things that we do and when we do, we rarely give ourselves much in the way of credit.

We like to ask our kids ONE simple question each night as we put them to bed so they stop for a moment to recognise and appreciate those RESILIENCE building moments that would otherwise just be forgotten.

This one question does a number of important things:

  • 1
    it helps your child to frame each day in a positive light, so whatever has happened they remember that something good happened too
  • 2
    it helps them to be more positive, imagine if your memory of each day was that it was a good day in some way, you are literally building a positive memory bank by depositing a positive memory each day
  • 3
    it helps to sends them off to sleep feeling happy and good about themselves.

Here's our one-a-day-for-a-month last thing at night question list.

10: practice mindfulness

Managing your emotional state is a key part of resilience. We often fail to act as we'd like, because our emotional reaction can trigger our ‘fight or flight’ response.

Studies show that meditation is one of the best activities you can use to create this distance between emotion and action.

Meditation also helps to manage stress and anxiety, it helps to induce a state of calm, from which you can behave resiliently, without fear.

To help our kids develop their mindfulness, we use Headspace. It has a free 10 minutes for 10 days trial, it's a great activity to do together as a family, and it will teach your kids a valuable skill for life.

11: help your kids to develop a passion

In her research into why some people succeed, Angela Duckworth author of perhaps the most famous book on resilience, found at the heart of each individual story of resilience success, there was a meeting of ‘passion and perseverance’. Being passionate about something helps you be more motivated to persevere.

So, how do you help your kids to find their passion?

The simplest way is to try lots of different activities, as Duckworth says ‘don’t be afraid to guess’. We second that, because on a hunch, we took our kids indoor climbing recently and they loved it.

However, if you want to avoid the legwork involved in this scattergun approach, we would recommend that you copy Jane Andraka. In her fantastic TedTalk 'Hijacking your child's education', she talks about how she first tried the scattergun approach but success came when she started to look for activities for her kids to do that lay in the intersection of their interests and their talents.

So, if your kid loves computer games (interest) and has a logical mind (talent), try programming,  or game design, or robotics. If they like fashion (interest) and are good at drawing (talent) why not look at fashion design, or sewing classes.

Click below for some more tips and ideas about how to help your child find and develop their passion.

click for some more tips and ideas...

12: don't let them give up

In her book Angela Duckworth talks about helping her kids develop their perseverance by using something she calls the Hard Thing Rule: this rule has 4 features:

  • 1
    Everyone has to do something (mum and dad too).
  • 2
    It must be something that requires daily deliberate practice.
  • 3
    You can quit, but only when the season (or some other natural break) is over
  • 4
    You get to pick your ‘hard thing’.

This ties in quite nicely with the finding their passion idea.

Once your child has decided what they want to do, then you can talk about the 'hard thing rule'.

Resilience is about experiencing the highs and the lows whilst knowing you are in it for the long run. We all have those moments when we want to give up, but the hard thing rule will teach your child not to “quit on a down day”.

A simpler, everyday version of this is to hold your child to account when they say that they are going to do something.

The trick is to do so in a way that motivates rather than criticises.

"Ok, let's get this done shall we?"

"Remember, we are the sort of people that do what we say."

If your child is a reluctant starter...

"Shall we make a start?"

"Come on, let's just do 5 minutes and see where we are at..."

13: be the change you want to see in your kids

It has become an accepted tenet that kids will rarely listen to their parents but seldom fail to imitate them. Communicating the message has never been a good substitute for 'showing up' and embodying the message. - Greg Boyle

So what do you do if your resilience could do with a boost, where do you start?

Good news, we've created an online mini-course that will help you to do just that.

It will take you 10 minutes to complete and will help you to work out what's important to you about resilience and come up with your own action plan to help you integrate it into your day to day life.

14: a quick resilience boost

What do you do if your kid is in need of some immediate RESILIENCE?  How do you make them feel resilient and ready to take on whatever is in front of them?

Welcome to the Power Pose, the brainchild of  Social psychologist Amy Cuddy, Associate Professor at Harvard Business School.

It turns out that how we position our body (our physiology) has a direct affect on how we think and feel (our emotional state). How we think and feel affects our behaviour and how we behave affects our results.

Being resilient often means taking action when you don’t feel like it, so if we can teach our kids this skill, how to be in control of their emotional state simply by using their body, this is an incredibly powerful tool. 

So, how do you do it?

Think of a stationary Usain Bolt as he crosses the finish line, that’s what you’re after.

Arms aloft, head tilted upwards, big grin, legs spread.

This pose is called ‘pride’ and it’s thought to be hardwired into our brain, even congenitally blind people do it when they cross the finish line.

This pose actually alters the body’s chemistry, it increases the amount of testosterone which is the dominance hormone and is associated with an increased tolerance for risk.

Cuddy’s research also found that it reduces the amount of cortisol in the body and when cortisol levels drop it means that you can handle stressful situations better.

In short, this pose enables you to feel more confident and able to deal with stuff, a recipe for resilience.

For optimal results hold the pose for at least 1 minute (preferably 2).

what next?

If you would like your child to develop this vital life skill check out our RESILIENCE manual below.

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