The gift of resilience

As parents we want to set our children up for success in life, and our efforts, while well intentioned, sometimes leave us scratching our head and wondering what we have done wrong. We support them to be read and write and curious about the world around them. However, to be truly effective, supporting them to be more resilient and able to be happy within themselves, is essential.

Resilience is not something we are born with but something we develop and strengthen as we grow. It is helpful to compare it to a muscle which only grows if used regularly. As we experience challenges and conquer these our resilience can be strengthened. I strongly believe that the ability to be happy within yourself is a skill, that can be taught and a significant player in how resilience is built. 

As parents we are in front of the resilience game if stable attachments can be established for a child early on. These positive relationships inspire children to feel safe and able to work through the developmental challenges and hurdles life throws up. Supporting children early on to achieve happiness through their own efforts and not through what is provided to them is a challenge in society today.

Taking risks as they sleep on their own, take their first steps, and explore the world independently, allows them the opportunity to experience failure, persevere and then succeed (on some level). Those first positive relationships that are formed support them to be brave souls in a big world. The messages received from you, and the experiences they have at this early age set the stage for what will come, how resilient they will be when faced with the next challenge, and the personal happiness that can be achieved despite the outcome.

Three pieces of knowledge are important to consider when we are seeking to be happier and thrive. This should guide how we respond to our children at critical times.

First let’s get rid of the notion that we can be happy all of the time. When we live only for the moment we are missing out on the rewards of achieving a goal. When we only focus on the future without taking pleasure from the present we drain the joy out of life and this is not sustainable. This should be considered when we attempt to make the world happy all the time for our children. Let them experience sadness, anger, loneliness boredom, but in a safe and supported way. By doing this, they learn to respect those feelings and finds way to make themselves happier. They learn to be resilient.

Being happier, is achievable when we examine our life in parts and make small changes bit by bit that will bring us joy. Teaching our children how to problem solve is essential in this process. Providing them with the solution is the same as giving them the fish. Let’s teach them to fish and support them to work through a problem, developing a plan for coping with a challenge. When success is achieved they will have earned the happiness they feel and be able to apply the skill the next time. Sometimes this is not fun and involves hard work. This, however, makes our pursuits meaningful and gives us purpose. Children need to find purpose in what they do. Allowing them the independence and creativity to do this will set them up for success through life.

Being happier involves living in the present, enjoying what you, do but it also involves having dreams and making plans for the future. Encouraging our children to be grateful for what they have, dreaming big dreams and aspiring to wonderful adventures, inspires bravery and a risk-taking mentality that in a supportive environment builds resilience and the opportunity to flourish.

I am not happy every day but I am confident that I can always find something positive to cling to. When all else fails I have a support network of family, friends and colleagues that I know I can look to for the inspiration needed to pull me back up. Encouraging our children to recognise the strengths of others, to seek and offer help to those around them builds important social connections that can be drawn upon when inspiration is needed. It also teaches them the value of empathy and the happiness that is derived from helping others.

Supporting our kids to be more resilient and happier is a proactive measure that will serve them well as new challenges arise and bad things happen. Clearing the path for them at every turn will not support them to build resilience and will not teach them how to be a happier person. Let them experience the perils and challenges but also the sense of empowerment that comes from conquering a fear.

Remember we are all human and we make mistakes along the way. When we learn from our mistakes, and own them, we become more resilient and we thrive. Now that is happiness, and that is a gift I want to give my child.

Michelle Hall
- Director Pathways Health and Research Centre
- Lead Facilitator of the FRIENDS Programs