resilience and emotions

11 research backed ideas that will help your child develop their EQ and their resilience.

1: awareness

Psychologist Nathaniel Branden famously said, “The first step toward change is awareness." so, we start with that and we recommend that you and your child watch the video below.

It's a fascinating insight as to what is happening to their brain, and it will help you both understand what to do when their emotions get the better of them.

2: decisions

The act of making decisions helps your child to develop an internal locus of controlPeople with this recognise that their choices influence their outcomes, and as such, they are more likely to take action. Whereas a person with an external locus of control believes that outside forces are responsible and is therefore less inclined to be motivated to act.  

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...

We've created a decision checklist that will help your kids be more responsible, make more decisions and feel more in control of their life.

3: let them fail

We want our kids to do well and it's 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 can 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 learn how to solve problems for themselves because you've already done it for them. 

So,  should you not help them at all? No, kids need help and guidance, we like to help in ways that teach them to be more self-sufficient. Here are 4 examples:

  • 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 still 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 and 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 in order to achieve anything, some risk has to be taken, risk is part of life and if managed correctly, has its rewards.

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 (with supervision). 

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.

5: 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!

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.

We like to frame chores as skills for independent living. It feels more positive and grown up than chores, plus your kids can see them as objectives to aim for.

6: 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!

7: praise their resilience

Praise is a powerful weapon to have in your parental armoury and used correctly it can motivate your child to develop their resilience.  Here's an example of how we praise resilience:

  • 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: how to criticise

Criticism is a useful way to let your child know when they have done something wrong or that they need to correct course, however, done incorrectly it can have a long lasting damaging effect.

For example, let's imagine your child does something stupid:

You react and say:

  1.  "You are stupid."
  2. or you say "That was a stupid thing to do."

It might not look like much of a difference, but the psychological effect can be huge.

You ARE stupid' is criticism of them as a person.

'That was a stupid THING TO DO' is a criticism of their behaviour.

As far as criticism goes, you need to separate identity from behaviour, especially at this emotionally sensitive age.

By criticising their identity, your child will take this at face value, say this enough times and this then becomes a subconscious belief about who they are.

So, if you are going to criticise, criticise the behaviour.

If you do find yourself criticising then why not turn into a more positive outcome. The way to do this is to bring it back to character strengths; ask your child which character strength(s) they could use next time obtain a better outcome. 

If you turn these incidents around in a positive and constructive way then you will help your child to build a positive self-identity and they will develop self-compassion.

9: 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.

10: 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, dad or caregiver too).
  • 2
    It must be something that requires regular practice.
  • 3
    You can quit, but only when the season (or some other natural break) is over
  • 4
    You get to pick what your ‘hard thing’ is.

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”.

TIP: For rule 3 above- the older your child the longer you should make them stick at it.

11. emotional precision

Research shows that being PRECISE about how you feel has many benefits from better performance at school to a longer, healthier life. 

Being PRECISE with your emotional states means that you experience the world around you more accurately, it also helps you to have better relationships (with yourself and with others).

A rich and full emotional vocabulary gives your brain better (more precise) tools for dealing with the challenges you will face in your life.

We have created an activity that will explain to your child how emotions work and will help them to become more precise with their emotional language.