Why failure is so essential to building resilience, but also to experiencing success

How to grow your child’s resilience

All children are capable of extraordinary things.  The potential for happiness and greatness lies in all of them, and will mean different things to different children. As parents, we naturally want to cushion our child’s fall, manage their challenges and build their confidence.  We believe our job, as a good parent, is to protect our child from failure.

However, is our natural protective instinct stopping our children from building their own resilience and ability to bounce back from trauma or adversity?  It is a sad fact that mental health problems in children is on the increase.  Could this because we have become over protective?  We honestly don’t know. What we do know is that recent research has demonstrated that building resilience in children helps them navigate stressful situations allowing them to be able to bounce back from stress, challenge, trauma or adversity.

Resilient children act braver, are much more curious and can adapt to situations more easily.

Changing your child’s mindset to allow for resilience

There are a number of strategies we can do, as parents, to start to build their resilience and to allow them to confront uncertainty by helping them to solve problems independently.

 

determined child
1

Create a positive sense of achievement

Give your child a challenge at home to help them become competent in a certain task. Simple tasks could be: make their bed every day for a week; or load the dishwasher? Make sure the challenge can be accomplished within a set time-frame and praise, praise, praise! Once your child has experienced this sense of achievement, they will automatically look for new, harder, challenges.
2

Build confidence

Confidence is really important to help children develop a sense of resilience. Confident children will take on new tasks, make new friends easily and take risks. Learning from failure and taking certain risks, are actually the key tools to building a child’s confidence. By making your child feel valued, using effective praise and encouragement, you are on the right path to building their confidence.
3

Allow your child to fail

Did you know JK Rowling’s first manuscript for Harry Potter was rejected 12 times before it was published?

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.”
- J.K. Rowling

It is no surprise, after suffering failure herself that her fictional hero, Harry Potter, also went on to build his resilience through failure which panned out across the series of Harry Potter novels. ‘The boy who lived’ symbolised a child who had experienced great trauma, but with the support of his friends; structure of the school environment; moments of great success and great failure; J.K. Rowling's character gained the capacity to overcome and bounce back.

4

Promote healthy risk taking

Everything is safe and bubble-wrapped for our children nowadays, so what can we do to enable our children to experience taking risks and learn to step out of their comfort zone as they grow? There are many ways to help your child embrace risks. Some suggestions could be to help organise a fund raiser for your local charity; take part in a new sport or, it might be as simple as taking a speaking part in the school play. It’s all about supporting your child through the experience.
5

Ask questions

If your child comes to you with a problem, as a parent you naturally want to fix it for them. Whether it is a friendship issue at school or a homework problem, rather than launch into a lecture, why not ask your child some questions? This allows your child to feel valued, teaches them problem-solving skills and promotes self-reliance.
6

Be optimistic

Optimism and resiliency go hand in hand. Use your experiences in life to teach your child to reframe their mind to always find the positive in a difficult situation. Even the most awful stress, like coping with grief, can be reframed to help your child understand the bigger picture.
7

Bring their emotions to life

The one thing parents often do is sweep children’s emotional outbursts under the carpet. Who hasn’t had an uncomfortable outburst in the supermarket? Every child expresses themselves in different ways. Maybe your child becomes naughty and rude when they are worried about something. By talking freely about their emotions with you regularly, you are giving them a chance to learn it is okay to feel sad, anxious or jealous and, more importantly, give them the confidence that these feelings usually pass.
8

Free play

By encouraging children to get outside and play freely, it allows them to experiment with their emotions; learn about failure; work on positive connections with their friends, teachers and family, and enjoy being part of a team. These are all great ways for children to build up their resilience. Exercise also strengthens and reorganises the brain to make it more resilient to stress.

Here's the science bit

During times of adversity or stress, our body goes through a number of changes designed to make us faster, stronger and more alert.  It is often called the ‘fight-or-flight’ syndrome.  The term ‘fight-or-flight’ represents the choices that our ancient ancestors had when faced with a danger in their environment. They could either fight or flee. In either case, the physiological and psychological response to stress prepares the body to react to the danger.  Now it can happen in the face of an imminent physical danger or, a more regular occurrence, as a result of a psychological threat (such as preparing to speak in front of an audience, like the school play).

Resilience refers to a person’s ability to adapt successfully to acute stress, trauma or more chronic forms of adversity.  It is related to the capacity to re-activate the prefrontal cortex and calm the amygdala.  Thus resulting in the person’s ability to adapt and ultimately cope with the stress.

 

Prefrontal cortex

This is the control tower of the brain.  Located at the front of the brain, it is known to shut down temporarily during times of stress.  It is the part of the brain which allows for concentration, problem solving, controlling impulsive behaviours and regulating emotions ‘executive functions’.  It can also be the reason some children are unable to concentrate in a competition or examination environment.

 

Amygdala

The part of the brain responsible for our instinctive, impulsive responses.  The Amygdala controls the release of adrenaline and cortisol which, in times of stress can send our heart rate up; make us feel flushed; dilate our pupils and, in extreme cases, make us tremble as our muscles tense up.

 

Finally

A big part of resilience is our children building their belief in themselves.  Negative thoughts will come, so will bad feelings as they experience the world.  As parents, we hold the power to give our children the skills and wisdom they need to fuel the ‘warrior voice’ that is inside them that will fight for them, believe in them, and strengthen them from the inside out.