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Not everyone gets a trophy

How to build resilient kids
Blog 55

I'm a mum to three humans and they're all teenagers. I know! What was I thinking? A daughter who's still young enough to adore me, and two teenage boys who often mistake me for an Uber driver. Like all of you, I want my children to have happy childhood memories to look back on and I hope that I haven’t done too much to ruin them. My hope for them is that they become healthy, adventurous and successful adults who reach their potential. I want them to feel like they matter and I want them to value others. I think a lot about how I can teach them to be a good friend – all pretty standard parenting I would suggest. Is that you I can hear yawning?

When my children are participating in sport, I morph into someone I don’t recognise. I'm fierce in my support and I want them to win. Of course I do. But I also want them to lose sometimes, because losing is equally important. I get annoyed when ribbons are handed out to every child and when those participation certificates are distributed to everyone in the room. I have to breathe deeply when the child who wasn’t a team player still gets an award. And I nearly lose my mind when I see parents throwing tantrums because their child feels left out or unrecognised when they don’t get a trophy. We're not setting our children up for success by giving them all a trophy, because that’s not at all reflective of what life as a grown-up is like.

I know that being a mum is the most important thing I do, and for me it’s the hardest job in the world. As a single, full-time working mum I'm sometimes overwhelmed with the responsibility of navigating my three children into adulthood. Am I the only mum who believes cereal with banana on top for dinner is a totally balanced meal? It's possible that I put clothes in the dryer, rather than ironing them and I did miss assembly on Monday morning because I had to work. For nine years now, I have had full custody of my little peeps and as a result have been juggling both the mum and dad roles. This means I need to be able to provide financially, emotionally, spiritually and physically for my children. Here’s the thing! I spend just as much time thinking about how I can build their resilience as I do about creating their happiness. What? Yes. Really. I believe resilient adults are happy adults and the skill of learning how to manage all of life’s challenges starts now when they are children.

Resilience over happiness
What if resilience were the greatest gift we can give our children? Let’s let them fail, and let’s deliberately put our children in situations where they get to test if they can trust themselves and others. It feels like that goes against our brief as a parent to keep our babies safe, but hang in here with me on this. Kids don’t need to be happy all the time and if they’re not happy it doesn’t mean they're sad. I know! Breaking news! A full life encompasses it all, the entire gamut of emotions, the plethora of feelings – love, fear, joy, sadness, surprise, anger – that’s life! When I suddenly became a single mum, my children went to three schools in one year. We moved house numerous times. It wasn't what I wanted for them and in fact I felt like I was constantly failing. I now realise this is when they were learning the most about how to thrive in uncertainty.

Years of working as a success coach globally has shown me that happiness is a consequence of how we manage and how we feel about what happens to us, and it’s the people who have resilience who are happiest. The people who ‘bounce back’ better and faster spend less time down and more time up – that’s logical, right? So, if your child’s art is not included in the school expo or they didn’t get invited to Abby’s birthday party, maybe it’s OK.

Resilient kids become happier adults because they:

  • have a greater ability to ‘reframe’ – to look for the positive, the better response
  • don’t stay long in victimhood, or look to allocate blame to others
  • quickly move on from the negative emotions and self-manage their mindset
  • don’t let life’s challenges define them.

Numerous studies support these claims. This literature review found, for example, that factors such as emotional regulation, cognitive skills, empathy and a positive outlook are associated with resiliency in children. Meanwhile this study, which explored what happens to students who aren’t allowed to suffer through setbacks, found they lacked resilience – culminating in an inability to control their emotions, cope with difficult situations or accept responsibility for their actions. The study also found that absence of resilience contributes to inadequate development of life skills and an inflated sense of entitlement.

So, on the school nights when I am actually home to have dinner with my children, I ask them, ‘What was the best thing about your day?’, because I want to celebrate and understand what made them happy. I follow that up always with, ‘What was the worst thing about your day?’, because I want them to have perspective and to learn early that bad things happen all the time. It’s how we respond that matters.

PS: Kids are more resilient than we give them credit for anyway. If you’re keen to read more on the topic, check out Michael Carr-Gregg’s Strictly parenting or Justin Coulson’s 9 ways to a resilient child. There are also plenty of great resilience-themed children’s books to read with little ones that role model determination in the face of adversity, like The little yellow digger, Have you filled a bucket today? and The most magnificent thing.

– Written by our Coach Place Founding Director, Lisa Stephenson

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