When you were learning how to ride a bike as a kid and you fell off and skinned a knee or an elbow, did you just brush yourself down, get back on and try again, knowing that eventually after some practice, you’d get the hang of it?

Or did you do what most of us did, and cry a bit and refuse to get back on the saddle until your mum or dad forced you to?

For most of us, learning to ride a bike was a painful and undignified affair that involved much wobbling, some falling off, lots of tears (some of pain, most of frustration) and a good deal of anxiety before we got to the elation of two-wheeled, confident independence.

In fact, for kids, most learning experiences are like that.

But many people seem to think that children develop resilience purely through the act of failing. That’s not the case. Children actually develop resilience by learning how to deal with failure successfully.

Sometimes, as in the case of the bike riding example, we have to learn to deal with failure temporarily, but occasionally we have to deal with it permanently – like the kid who’s been told they’re the best football player in their school, but don’t make it through the trial for Arsenal.

Most parents want their children to be resilient, to have a growth mindset and to have oodles have self-belief – but just how do we help them achieve that? How do we help a child to convert failure into a successful outcome (where success is sometimes learning what went wrong rather than achieving what they set out to do)?

When children feel overwhelmed by their emotions, they break down; but a child who knows how to regulate their emotions can accept losing in a game or not being top of the class and is better able to overcome those setbacks.

What we’re aiming for as parents is to gift our child with the ability to one day be able to look back and remember how they coped with various problems and challenges and have the knowledge and self-belief that they’ll be able to cope with each and every failure they encounter – because as sure as eggs is eggs, failure lurks around every corner!

Knowing that, then, what help can you give your child to give him or her the confidence and resilience to know they can handle what life throws at them – to enjoy the successes and to learn from the mistakes?

Here are a few suggestions:

When your child comes up against a disappointment, setback, failure or problem, don’t jump in and try to solve the problem for them. Instead, help them to solve it themselves, but give them the support they need to have the best chance of succeeding.

Resilience isn’t something you’re born with – it has to be learned. Anxious parents try to protect their kids and keep them from challenging situations, but that really doesn’t help them in the long run. As a parent, be brave enough to allow your child to face difficult situations whilst also ensuring he or she knows you’re there to support them if they feel they need it.

Help your child to work out how to cope with challenges – give them opportunities to do this regularly from a really young age so they learn how to figure things out for themselves whilst always ensuring you’re there to catch them if they fall..

Instead of providing your child with every answer when they ask you something – start with: I don’t know – but why don’t you try to find out and I’ll work it out with you.

Failure isn’t the end of the world – it’s simply a stepping stone to success, and while standing by while your children and teens mess up can be really tough – after all, you’re hardwired to protect them – it’s much better in the long run if your child can make and learn from their own mistakes so they get it right next time.

Resilience helps children to survive life’s stressful situations and navigate the difficult times in life – in the end, resilient kids become resilient adults – and gives them satisfaction that comes from their success and the confidence to get back on the bike when they fail.

1 Comment

  • Avatar for Simon Hawtrey-Woore

    Excellent article Elaine – very timely with many of my friends with 12-15 year old daughters navigating school and growing up. It seems there’s very little support from the schools and moving school seems the default action.