Are you ready for your ten top tips for boosting your child’s resilience? Hello! I’m Harriet, I’m an Art Therapist and I run a company called Heart Smart Arts where I design art packs for kids to support their mental health. I absolutely love what I do and it makes me really happy to teach children how to follow their joy and know how to feel good even when things don’t go as they expected. I’ve put together some of my favourite ways of teaching your children how to be resilient and in doing so develop a growth mindset which supports their ability to adapt easily to change.
I hope it leaves you inspired to try a few out!
Explicitly teach your children that life has ups and downs
This might sound a bit obvious but actually it isn’t.
So much of childhood is about fairy tales and stories in which things all turn out alright in the end. And rightly so… we don’t want to make our little ones worry unnecessarily BUT if we build it in that sometimes things don’t turn out as we planned and that is OK (and sometimes it’s even better!), then we are setting our children up to have less controlling expectations which in turn will set them up for more success. Our ability to adapt and change is what helps us to be resilient and teaching your children this will support them to have a growth mindset and be able to adapt to change and go with the flow. On top of that, you will have an easier time as a parent if things change at the last minute (as they do!). Teaching your children coping mechanisms like – things do change and don’t always go as we planned – is giving them the best head start in becoming emotionally resilient and capable children.
Change the Routine
Right in line with what we’ve just been talking about is this next one… change the routine. So, what I mean here is not to change something they’ve had their hearts set on but instead every day things which they aren’t too bothered about. So, for example, food shopping or walking the dog. Every so often, change the plan. We can’t do xxx now because we need to swap things around or Dad’s got the car or Granny is busy later etc. It doesn’t really matter how you do it, just that you do sometimes. And also – this is really important – if the plans change for you in front of your children, try not and freak out. Model (as much as is possible) being relaxed that the plans have changed so they know, it’s really OK, it’s not a big deal.
You will know, as a parent or new parent, that routine is really important but don’t let it become a set of rules which give you more stress than relief. Sometimes things do change and that is totally okay.
Positive Self talk
This one is so important! And it’s also probably the most difficult. How much do we catch ourselves saying things to ourselves which are just unkind!? You would never say what you say to yourself to a child. And yet, your inner child is still inside you!
Your children learn from you too. So, this is your invitation to visit how you speak to yourself and show some kindness, some compassion. You deserve it, you really do! And more than this, it extends to what you show your child(ren) too. If they’ve had a bad time at nursery or away from you, naturally you will ask what happened. And you could go a step further:
I wonder what you might have said to yourself when that happened? or I wonder what that felt like for you?
Be watchful of any words which might turn up like ‘stupid’, ‘silly’, or words which describe themselves in a negative way or maybe just a feeling of being not good enough in some way. Take the time to remind them that they did the best they knew how to at the time and that will always be enough <3
Listen & Interact without interruptions
So many things happen in a day, an hour, even! And being a Mum is a full time (plus) job. Sometimes it’s really hard to find the time to slow down enough to have meaningful, fully attentive conversations with our children.
One thing I have learnt, though, is that so often if we stop, briefly, and give someone our full attention for a few short minutes, issues can be resolved so quickly (or even not arise on the first place!). When we are trying to do three things at once, it’s easy to miss clues and signs which we would rather see.
So, whenever you can, and I’d say at least once a day, even if it’s just for a few minutes, stop and give your child your full, undivided attention away from your phone or anything else and just listen to them. Let them tell you something they want to share with you and let them speak it out until they have finished and then respond. It will positively impact them SO much and you might just find unhelpful attention-seeking behaviour reducing as a result.
Inner rewards vs outer reward
This is such an interesting one that I personally think about a lot, not just for how I support others, but for myself.
What are you motivated by? Is it internal (purpose, passion, excitement, love, fear) or is it external (pressure, guilt, shame, obligation, need, others’ desires)?
I’m pretty sure you can see from just that question which one usually feels better! So much of the time we feel we have to be driven by outside pressure.
When we are children it is much easier to tap inside to the good stuff. As adults, we have to practise a bit more!
In whatever ways you can, encourage your children to make decisions for themselves based on what feels right, feels good, feels rewarding for them. This is instead of just what they’ve been asked to do or to try and please you or someone else or looking for some kind of external reward. Although, listening to and following instructions is good and clearly needed, it shouldn’t be everything. In their relationships as they grow up we want them to have a secure sense of self – feeling whether they are happy with their actions rather than looking for validation from someone else (which may never come!).
Nurture a sense of curiosity and exploration in your child to find what feels good for them and then follow it. With my tiny clients I talk to them about ‘following their happy’ and that is basically it. It will support your child so much.
All the best things happen just outside your comfort zone but…
Comfort zones is something I speak and educate about quite a bit. ALL of the best stuff happens just outside our comfort zones. You know, when you are happy, excited and a bit scared all at once. Those are the feelings going on when you are doing what makes you most happy and where you are learning and growing as a person.
BUT… it might be that right now is just not the time. We are going through a pandemic and have constantly been asked to do things which are outside our comfort zone (wear a mask, socially distance, not see friends and family…) We are all the time being stretched beyond what we are comfortable to do.
With that being said, it’s really ok to feel all the feels because of that. This is why it’s just been so blooming exhausting going through this and it is the same for your littlies too. Even if they’re pre-verbal, children read our energy and our moods way before they are understanding our words. At the moment all of their adults and safe people have some level of tense, anxiousness about them just because of what we are experiencing on a global scale.
When we go through something big or a trauma of some kind, learning slows right down. Don’t worry if your child’s learning feels like it’s almost stopped. Much younger behaviours come out during a time of uncertainty too so if some of those have shown up, don’t be worried. When things normalise and feel safer your little ones will have the brain space to be learning and growing again at full speed.
So be that safe haven for them, don’t sweat the small stuff. You are doing brilliantly and so are they, so let them know <3
Let them see you make mistakes and not freak out
When kids make mistakes we say things like:
Don’t worry you were only learning, mistakes is how we learn!
When we make mistakes we can be so tough on ourselves! How much does forgetting something at the shop or being late to collect the kids really get you really wound up or just frazzled and defeated? This one links in with positive self-talk. Ultimately, we are going to make mistakes all.the.time. because we are human and we are not robots! And it’s totally okay that we do! Most of the time, it really doesn’t matter that much.
However, what does matter is that you show your kids that it’s really alright to make a mistake or get something wrong. As soon as we realise that, we can just change course, redirect and usually the world won’t end because of our mistake.
Something about you making mistakes lets your children know that they a) don’t have to be perfect and get it right all the time (which sounds awfully pressured, let’s be honest) and b) that mistakes happen every day and it’s fine! No big deal.
Explicitly teach using intuition (trust your inner sat nav!)
This is one of my favourite things to teach children because it is something which is never taught, not in schools anyway.
So much of the time we let our heads be the boss and make the decisions but actually that isn’t the way we are designed to make decisions. Our brains are brilliant for being logical, giving you an excellent pros and cons list, worrying about what might go wrong (!?)… but they aren’t there for making the big decisions.
For example, all of the biggest decisions you’ve ever made (like choosing a new home, getting married, having children, starting a business etc) you didn’t make with your head, you made those decisions with your feelings! And that’s what I am talking about here.
Specifically teach your children to feel into what it would be like if they said ‘Yes’ to the situation and then come back to neutral and feel into what it would be like if they said ‘No’ and then decide which one feels the happiest, feels good. And voila! Intuition 101.
Build self-care into the routine
This is a really nice one to think about. How often do we let our kids have the nice thing as a ‘reward’ for their good behaviour and therefore something which can be taken away when they misbehave? A lot, I would guess. Because it’s really useful!
But one thing I would suggest that you do is have one or two things which are non-negotiables. Lovely self-care things for your kids which get built into the week every week regardless of how they’ve been. This teaches them how important it is to give themselves nurturing time and also a chance to understand how important it is that we take responsibility for looking after our own self as well as everyone else. Chances are you do so many lovely things with your kids but choose a few (or add a few more in) which they get no matter what and they don’t have to ask for. It lets them know that they are worthy and deserving of love all the time not only when they are well behaved. I know this time will be so important to them.
The last one is a really simple one. Choices can build up a lot of anxiety in children: What if they don’t know? What if they choose the wrong thing? What if it’s the wrong choice? What if someone else doesn’t like it?
And really, at the end of the day, we want our children to be confident decision makers who aren’t overwhelmed by anxiety. How we do this is develop a culture of: Choose again. Whenever they have to decide about something let them know that they can change their mind at any time and it will be totally fine. If you don’t like it, just choose again. If you realise it wasn’t what you really wanted, choose again. Foster the idea that it’s not a problem to change their minds and you will find them being more confident and making less decisions where they actually want to change their mind because they choose what they really want the first time.
I really hope you’ve enjoyed these tips for building resilience. I’d love to know what you thought. You can connect with me and find more ideas like these on Instagram or Facebook by searching for @heart.smart.arts