This article was written by Leith Sterling, Executive Director of Child and Family Services at The Benevolent Society.

Supporting your child through challenging moments in life can be difficult.

Fitting in with friends, being teased by a peer, doing better at school: children face many testing situations where the solution or the perseverance to see through it are hard to find. Raising a child is such a wonderful and challenging experience. Helping them to build or maintain their resilience early on can be a beneficial foundation for life.

As a parent, there are steps you can take to help develop and maintain your child’s resilience. Below you’ll find some evidence-based and practical ideas to do this …

1. Adequate sleep is an important bedrock of resilience

What does sleep have to do with resilience? A lot.

Lack of sleep can have a negative impact on behaviour, emotions, attention, relationships and performance at school. Stressful situations that might otherwise have been easily handled when feeling well rested may seem overwhelming when tired.
Children aged six to nine need 10 to 11 hours of sleep every night, and those aged between 12 to 15 need nine to 10 hours. If this isn’t currently happening with your child, here are a few tips for change:

  • Create a routine that involves them going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
  • Have about 40 minutes to an hour of wind-down activities before bed (reading is always a good idea – electronic devices like computers, phones and television are not as they can stimulate the mind rather than relax it).
  • Adequate exercise is beneficial to a good night’s sleep, just ensure your child’s finished this kind of activity a few hours before bed, as the stimulation and increased body temperature can make it harder to get to sleep.
  • Make sure the room is dark and not too hot or too cold.
  • If you think your child is going to resist to an earlier bedtime, ease into it by changing things in small increments, such as going to bed 15 minutes earlier each night.


2. Get active

Physical activity has positive effects on self-esteem in children. It can also have a positive impact on nervousness, frustration and anger.

Helping your child find activities they like, rather than getting them to join a particular sport because that’s what you like or play, will increase the likelihood of them wanting to participate for the long-term. Enjoyment and doing well is key to motivation.

Trying a lot of different activities is a good way to find something your child enjoys and is good at. If you’re both struggling to decide, it’s a good idea to play to your child’s strengths. For example, they might be good at balancing, so may like dance or gymnastics, while others with good hand-to-eye coordination might have a talent for cricket or tennis. Some children shy away from competitive team sports, so perhaps individual sports such as running or tennis are best suited.

Not everybody has the funds or time required to have their child participating in a range of organised activities. If this is the case, think about how you can add exercise to your family’s existing routine, such as regular walks or bike rides together, walking to school, limiting computer and TV time, involving them in household chores, the gardening and washing the car. Another idea is to ask your child to set a goal, such as three activities a week, and record them on a calendar kept visible on the kitchen fridge.


3. Take time to problem solve together

Important to supporting resilience and self-esteem is helping your child to feel in control of their concerns. The ability to problem solve is an important part of this.

Start by encouraging them to clarify their concerns. A useful way to narrow it down is by asking, “what’s the easiest way to say what’s bothering you?” then writing down, drawing or discussing their answer(s) with them. Gently talk to them about their problem, asking how often it is happening, who is involved and how it makes them feel. Have this conversation at a moment when you and your child are feeling calm, not when they’re still angry or upset as this will make it difficult for them to concentrate.

Develop a list of ways they might solve the problem. You could help them write the list, or they might want to draw their answers. Include as many options as they can think of, not correcting any that aren’t suitable, and make sure you’re not driving the solutions yourself – you want them to think for themselves. Their problem-solving actions might centre on ways to calm themselves and feel better, or things other people could do to support them.

Look over the answers with your child, talk about the good and bad points, the consequences for each, and rate them (this might involve drawing a star or smiley face for each). Your child will then be able to decide on the most practical and achievable option.

Develop a plan for putting the solution into action. Some questions that might assist with this include asking what they think needs to happen first, who will do what and when, and who they can ask for help. Practice these steps through role-play. For example, you could pretend to be your child carrying out the ideas. Your child might also need some gentle coaching to remember what they’re going to do.

Before your child puts the plan into action, it’s important to reassure them that not all plans workout, but that testing it is a great way to finding a solution. This is about managing their expectations in case the approach isn’t as effective as you’d hoped. Of course, if it works, that’s great, but if it doesn’t, you and your child will need to do some finessing. The key is to keep trying so your child can feel more comfortable and confident in carrying out the plan.

This article was originally posted on the Bounty Parents website.