Want to raise resilient kids? Here are two things to do less.

It’s not surprising that we want to give our children the very best of everything. But are we doing them a disservice if we constantly shield them from all of life’s disappointments? What we really want to do is raise a resilient child who can cope with life’s highs and lows.

Read more

This generation of parents knows so much more about the power of praise and a positive self-image. But still so many find themselves confronted with their young ones unable to confront disappointment without a meltdown.

Of course some of these meltdowns are the ordinary stuff of childhood. Frustration tolerance grows with maturity, and our two and three year olds will not face every setback with zen-like acceptance. You only have to take a trip to the supermarket to see that even small disappointments are major to some children. So what can parents do to increase a child’s ability to bounce back?

1. Rescue less

If you are having a tough time managing a child who feels they can’t cope with tasks, responsibilities, or disappointments, is it possible that rescuing has been a factor? There are lots of reasons why we rescue our children – most of the time without even realising. It’s quicker and easier, and we hate to see them miss out. We’re not trying to be bad parents when we do this.

Rescuing removes the process that leads to competence and mastery. “First I couldn’t. Then I could.” This is mastery, and it’s a magical process that creates true capability and resilience in a child. “First I couldn’t, so dad did it for me,” just doesn’t cut it, unfortunately!

With each new task, you will have to show your child how to do things, and assist them for a while – maybe months or years, depending on the task. It is the gradual handing over of the reins that encourages children to feel capable, in turn promoting resilience.

How to rescue less

  • Let children make choices
  • Remember a child’s struggle can be an invaluable process
  • Don’t ask too many questions
  • Teach problem-solving skills, rather than solving problems for them
  • Encourage children to use sources outside the home to problem solve
  • Let a child answer for himself
  • Show respect for a child’s eventual readiness to master a skill
  • Assess involvement on a case by case basis (age, child’s characteristics, size of the problem, external circumstances)
  • Be verbally, emotionally and physically supportive, without necessarily ‘doing’ anything

2. To distract or not to distract?

Distraction is an extremely useful tool. When your one year old hammers his thumb, or your 18 month old is advancing menacingly on the family cat then, “Shall we read a book together? Why don’t you go and choose one?” (or something along similar lines) will defuse the situation.

But it can become too much of a good thing if mum or dad never stop to ask, “Would she be better off if I didn’t distract right now?” If your own feelings of discomfort at seeing your four year old frustrated mean that you will offer her food, a new toy, the TV on (anything to stop the crying!) – then she is missing some valuable opportunities to learn that difficult feelings can be endured.

They understand a lot

Even when they can’t say much, they understand a lot – usually grasping the unspoken message behind our actions better than we do ourselves. If your child sees you flapping around in a panic to distract them away from the upset caused by a snatched toy or a dropped ice cream, what do you think these baby Einsteins are busy concluding? “Getting upset must be dangerous! Look how hard Mum’s working to make the feelings go away.”

Let unpleasant feeling sit a little

This is hard to do! Most of us will experience feelings of cruelty if we let a child remain in self-pity or sadness when they can easily be distracted from it. But having a long-term plan for parenting means putting our own discomfort aside for the sake of our children. We want our children to know when they break up with their first boyfriend or girlfriend, or don’t get the first job they apply for, that those feelings are hard, but also that they are endurable, and that they won’t last forever.


So empathise with a little one who is having tough feelings, let them know that you see and care about what they’re going through. This honours their experience far more than brushing over what has happened in your haste to end the pain. Sit with them and offer your support as they work their way through to the other side. You don’t need all the answers, you just need to be there.

Attend a Toolbox parenting course

Toolbox courses inspire and equip whānau. They are bursting with great advice, humour and encouragement, offering practical strategies and insights into developmental stages. Parents leave reassured that challenges are common to all families and that they’re not alone on their parenting journey. The courses are run over a number of weeks in a relaxed and conversational small group setting with a trained facilitator. The five courses – Building Awesome Whānau, Baby and Toddler Years, Primary Years, Intermediate Years, and Teenage Years. Find out more and register here.