Clinical Psychologist specialising in
Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness

6 rules for celebrating resilience that help your child succeed

After you’ve told your children that you love them and they must never doubt the value of their lives, what’s the number one skill they need to succeed? Resilience. The ability to bounce back from setback, heartbreak, injustice, and rise to life’s opportunities is quite simply the one skill that every parent should teach their children.

It wasn’t long ago that I watched my 25 years old son, Dylan win his first professional kick-boxing fight. Despite the win, let me tell you watching someone you love go three rounds in the school of hard knocks is never easy. By nature Dylan is a gentle soul, but also a highly trained and skillful athlete. But in the world of martial arts it takes more than skill to succeed, it takes mental toughness to shake off the painful blows and knock downs to bounce back time and time again to stay in the game and succeed.

Dylan has been through some pretty rough periods in his life and he certainly didn’t get the genes for getting up off the canvas from his old man. So, if you think your kids may have been slightly short changed by inheriting your DNA, don’t worry, genes are not destiny.

If you follow a few simple rules for creating the right cultural conditions that celebrates resilience, you can tip the scales in the right direction even if you’re not exactly Mohamed Ali.

Rule Number One: Model the Skills

It really goes without saying, but for parenting the sine quo non is still the most effective: We have to model the skills we want our kids to pick up. And if your Latin is a little rusty what this means is that being a role model is still the most effective teaching technique. I know, I know, so you’re not the Dalai Lama, but when disappointment strikes you can’t let your kids see you curled up in a ball, rocking in the corner, knocking back those Jack Daniels. In the end, maintaining a consistent climate of ‘steady as she goes’ is just what kids need to know they are safe and the world is a trustworthy place. If love is the oxygen kids need to breath to grow up with a balanced personality, then optimism is the refresh button that changes their view of the future and helps them refocus on future opportunities.

Rule Number Two: Develop a Fallback Plan

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, you need a new boat – sometimes a big boat! It seems that no matter how thoroughly you try and plan, life always finds a way of throwing up obstacles. Rather than resist change, develop the habit of looking for ways to adjust, recalibrate and improvise as conditions change. If thwarted by one approach, look for other ways to solve the problem. One of the biggest challenges the current generation has to overcome is the sense of special entitlement that they grow up with – y’know, “how big was your iPhone when you were a boy grandad?” Knowing that life doesn’t arrive on a platter, but that you’ve got to look around for solutions and try different strategies teaches kids to be resourceful.

Rule Number Three: The Twin Towers

Build your child’s Self-Confidence. Practically, self-confidence is built on the twin emotions of self-liking and self-competence. Remember those inflatable punching bags with water in the bottom that you knocked down as a kid and they popped back up again? Well, high levels of self-liking and self-competence are like water at the base of a kid’s emotional punching bag. They help them rebound after taking a blow.

Self-liking is a bit like your self-esteem. It’s the ‘reactor core’ of your personality and a major source of energy that sustains motivation and enthusiasm. Ok, so we know that some parents have embraced the self-esteem culture a little too enthusiastically and have single-handedly produced an army of pampered and protected protégés who make Narcissus wish he’d dived into the pool. Self-liking needs to be balanced with self-competence, and children need to discover their own efficacy, i.e., what they’re capable of achieving on their own. Extolling a child’s achievements helps them develop a sense of mastery and personal value.

Provide your kids with useful tasks that they can do like washing the dishes, tidying their room or taking out the garbage. Ok, so they moan and groan, but the sense of accomplishment they gain by completing these tasks lays the foundations for personal responsibility. As the tasks you give them become more complex and demand more of skill (learning an instrument or a sporting skill, or acting a role in a play) they cement another brick in the wall of their personal competence and strengthen their resilience.

Rule Number Four: Listen to Get Them Talking

Help them listen to the sound of their own voice. As Hugh O’Neill writing on fatherhood suggests, in the same way that children need a belief in the utility of their efforts, they also need to feel that their personalities send ripples out into the pond. When your kids try to make a joke, says O’Neill, be sure to chuckle at their effort. Now, don’t over do it because, in O’Neill’s words, that messes with reality – but just enjoy the effort they made. Similarly, O’Neill suggests that you find a way to credit your kids with changing your mind about something. Don’t wait until they’re actually right. The idea that something they said made Dad or Mum re-think, helps them feel influential in their way. By the way, this approach of listening to others and allowing them to influence you, is the single best way to get on with people everywhere – in the office, at home, or down at the local bar.

Rule Number Five: Give Up Perfection

Don’t mess with reality. Ok, so when things don’t work out and go ‘pear-shaped’, you’re not going to rock in the corner with a shot of Jack, but you also want to avoid acting as if nothing happened either. Don’t worry about exposing your kids to the fact that you’re not perfect. That way they’ll avoid the trap of developing a Pollyannaish view of the world and understand that failure is an inevitable part of life.

In fact, O’Neill, encourages parents to teach children to respect failure. He suggests that there are two kinds of failure – the bad kind that springs from sloth or carelessness and the good kind that shows you were stretching, not content to play it safe, determined to do something with your days. If people are going to turn out resilient, they’ll need to fail now and then. So let them. Think of it as practice.

Rule Number Six: Stick Together

Some of my most vivid family memories I have are from our travels as a family. Whether huddled together in our old VW Camper Van or swimming at Water Bom theme park in Bali. Sure, they are vivid memories because they are full of the exciting adventure of discovering new places. But for me, the real meaning was that we discovered that we were in it together – none of us was on our own, we could count on each other. And, of course, the flip side was that we were accountable to each other. Teaching kids that they are individually accountable for their actions and allowing them to feel the weight of their choices is a core component of building resilience. And here’s the rub, resilience requires that children learn to strike a balance between going it alone and relying on other people – knowing you have the support of others when things get tough. So parenting is the delicate dance of knowing when to lead and walk in front, and when to walk behind.

Your kids don’t have perfect parents or guardians. But they don’t really need them while you’re around, do they.



Martyn Newman Ph.D., D.Psych., is a clinical psychologist and best-selling author specialising in Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness.  Martyn is a headline speaker at the EQ Summit 2017 on May 25th in London.

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