A version of this article was first published on I AM EXPAT on 19 April 2023.
As parents, we want to do everything possible to protect our children and keep them happy and thriving. We also know that ups and downs are part of life. As much as you may want to shield your child from adversity, that’s not possible. In fact, learning to cope with setbacks is an integral part of development and learning and makes children more resilient.
Resilience is the capacity to withstand and recover from difficulties and develop the ability to bounce back in the face of setbacks. Building resilience in children helps them develop the self-confidence and courage necessary to face challenges, explore new opportunities, and persevere despite obstacles.
In this article, I will share some ways we encourage our students to develop a positive mindset and independence and become more resilient at Junior School Vlaskamp, The British School in The Netherlands. These strategies can be replicated at home to support your children in becoming more resilient and independent.
No ‘Bad’ Emotions
Imagine a world where nobody showed any emotion; it wouldn’t be very interesting. One of the ways we prepare students to navigate difficult moments is to let them know that there are no ‘bad’ emotions.
You can help your child to really understand their emotions by encouraging them to:
- Name the emotion. Talking about the many different ways you might feel empowers children to develop the language to speak about and be more conscious of their own feelings. Research shows that developing this emotional literacy makes us far more likely to be able to manage our emotions.
- Understand how emotions physically feel. Speaking about the connection between our minds and bodies can support our children to notice how their bodies feel when they experience different emotions. You can encourage your child to practise this awareness by making a game of acting out emotions for each other to guess. The language you use when discussing your feelings is another way to reinforce this understanding. For example, “Before giving my presentation yesterday, I was so nervous it felt like my heart was racing.”
- Understand how emotions influence thinking. Helping your child understand the connection between our emotions, especially intense ones, and how they can shape our reactions builds self-awareness. When we feel calm and happy, we are more likely to think and act rationally and logically. However, in tricky moments, when we are frustrated or mad, we will struggle to think clearly.
Zones of Regulation
We teach our students to understand their emotions and feelings through the Zones of Regulation framework in school. Each class spends time discussing the zones, which creates a shared language for the students and staff.
- Blue zone: tired, bored, hurt, sad.
- Green zone: happy, focused, relaxed.
- Yellow zone: Jittery, anxious, silly.
- Red zone: Extreme emotions. Utterly overwhelmed or angry.
The four colours become a way to name emotions, and we teach the children how their bodies and minds may feel in each zone. Children learn to identify what zone they are in and have a range of strategies for each zone that they can choose to use to help them manage how they are feeling. With time and practice, children learn to be in control of their emotions and not feel scared of them.
This framework is something that you can adapt and use at home.
Proactive Problem Solving
One of the ways that we can support our children to be more resilient is by helping them to develop proactive problem-solving skills. In life, we face all kinds of problems that are often beyond our control. We can’t stop issues from occurring but we can pause and choose how we react to them.
You can model this at home and help your child practise. The next time your child comes home from an activity or school and shares a problem with you, focus on listening to them rather than reacting or offering solutions. As parents, it can be difficult if our child is upset about something, but the skill is in listening carefully to the whole story and even being aware of how our body language looks to our child.
In listening intently, you can model to them that you are giving them the space to think of the most logical, most effective way to solve their problem. You can talk it through with them: “What do you think we should do? What are the different options?” so that they come up with a measured solution. You are there to empathise and support them, but by allowing them to think through the issue, you also demonstrate your confidence in their resilience and ability to manage challenges.
The Power of Yet!
How would you respond if someone asked you to dance in front of an audience? Could you stand up and tell a joke in front of a large group?
Your initial response might be, “Oh no, I could never do that.” What if, instead, you said, “I wouldn’t be able to do that now, but with practice and time, I could do it”? The difference between these two responses is that the language in the first response indicates a fixed mindset, and the second shows a growth mindset.
The research of Carol Dweck, an American Psychologist, highlights the importance of mindset in determining success. She explained, “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work – brains and talent are just the starting point.”
Our aim for our children is that they will embrace challenges. They won’t compare themselves to others and put themselves down. They will be inspired by others’ success and not threatened by it. We want our children to value effort and recognise that effort and practice will help them achieve their goals. The goal is for our children to learn that when they are struggling with something, they simply can’t do it YET. These characteristics are fundamental to resilience.
How can you encourage a growth mindset and resilience at home with your children?
Encouraging independence is one of the best ways to develop a growth mindset. Allow your child the time to do (age-appropriate) things for themselves. Even though it might take longer, providing opportunities for your child to struggle and feel the satisfaction of completing a task for themselves builds confidence. You can provide guidance to support your child in the activity and give them clues that help but teach them to do it independently.
We can also, as parents, model resilience and how we don’t give up ourselves. If there is something that we find tricky at home, and we usually give that role to somebody else in the household, it’s great to model taking on that challenge yourself. Have a go, and share your success when you achieve something you would typically find quite difficult.
Here’s a little tip for encouraging and valuing a growth mindset within your family: during dinner-time conversation, ask everyone to share something they found challenging during the day. What happened? As a parent, you can share an example yourself and praise the process of not giving up even if the outcome was not what you hoped for.
Dr Andy Cope, an educator and author, said, “As a parent, you are the most significant influencer and important part of your child’s life. You are shaping their world.” While we may not be able to shield our children from struggles, modelling resilience and being conscious of the language we use at home can make a real difference in ensuring our children thrive and achieve their goals. Your influence can ensure your child develops the skills, characteristics and mindset to become more resilient.
Claire Waller has been a teacher for over 20 years, and as a Headteacher, she still sees herself as a teacher. Before Claire became Headteacher of Junior School Vlaskamp in September 2022, she was Head of Primary at Nexus International School in Malaysia. Originally from Yorkshire, England, she has three children and two dogs, and her children have a ball python. She loves to travel and learn about different cultures. Claire’s philosophy and practice are centred around finding and nurturing every child’s talents, creativity and interests through the breadth of experience, and academic rigour.