Emotional Resilience in Children

School years might be the ‘best years of our lives’ but they can be emotionally and mentally challenging too. Being able to cope with stress, and being able to recover from negative experiences, helps immensely.

By building strong foundations for your child’s emotional resilience and wellbeing you will prepare them for life, enabling them to deal with the pressures and stresses they will face during their school years and beyond.

What is resilience?

According to Young Minds, resilience is ‘normal development under difficult circumstances, or the human capacity to face, overcome and ultimately be strengthened by life’s adversities and challenges.’

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. If a child learns to build their resilience, they can better deal with life’s twists and turns – and be mentally healthy.

Parental Guidance

As parents, we may want to protect our children from difficult things, but they will face challenges throughout life. They need to learn to cope when we’re not around, dust themselves down if they fall or falter, bounce back and continue.

At times, anyone can lack confidence or be prone to self-doubt - or even self-loathing. Dealing with negative situations is easier for children if they have self-belief, good people around them and a loving, safe environment.

Allow your child to face up to challenges and go through them. Support them with suggestions or guidance, but do not over-protect them. With every challenge they face, they will learn new strategies to deal with difficult situations that will help them in the future.

Mind has some tips for young people in developing emotional resilience.

Parental pressure

Parents can also place heavy demands on children to succeed.

Karen Sullivan, author of 'Kids Under Pressure', says, 'Parents put children under enormous pressure with heavily orchestrated schedules of extra activities, all of which are designed to help them succeed in life. However, this leaves little free time for children to be children and to relax. Children are often left feeling they are not good enough because they are not 'the best'.'

Many ‘hobby’ activities, like sports, music and dance, are achievement-orientated too. Children can develop an expectation that they should excel in everything – rather than relaxing or having fun. This spoils their ‘free’ time and drains their emotional and physical resources.

Exam and achievement stress

All too often, the pressure to achieve high standards in school can weigh heavily on a child’s emotional wellbeing and mental state.

A study by the NSPCC found that academic concerns were the biggest cause of stress for nearly 50% of children. In 2013-14, ChildLine received over 34,000 approaches from young people worrying about revision, school workloads, teachers and other school issues.

The constant push for schools to meet Ofsted recommendations or government targets puts pressure on teachers. This has the knock-on effect of pressure on your child to do better.

The NHS has some tips on school-related stress.

Every child is different. Some shine in certain areas and struggle in others.

By reassuring your child that their very best is good enough - as long as they give 100% (not necessarily ‘get’ 100%) in every subject. This will remove a huge amount of pressure on them to please you.

If your child is struggling, arrange to talk to the teacher and discuss what can be done to help.

This Childline video gives some guidance on school and exam stress.

Peer pressure

Some children are more vulnerable to ‘peer pressure’ than others. Many fall victim to their peers in a desperate attempt to be liked or to fit in. It seems easier to go along with the crowd than to stand alone and be seen as an individual.

Teach your child to have faith in themselves. In a situation where peers are egging them on to be the same or to do wrong, encourage them to listen to their own hearts and minds. If they avoid being led, or putting themselves in a position to be bullied by others, they will protect themselves from pressure to fit in.

Encourage your child to be an individual and seek out like-minded friends who share the same interests. Having a support network – whether friends or family – helps to build up emotional resilience and mental wellbeing.

Support at school

If you have concerns, or your child has emotional problems, visit your child’s school and arrange to meet the pastoral or SEN (Special Educational Needs) teams. Schools may have different names for the support – learning mentors, year tutors – but they should ease any concerns you have and provide structured intervention if necessary. Ensure that your child knows where they are and what they can do, should a need arise.

Having somewhere to go, where there are friendly and understanding members of staff trained to deal with emotional and mental health issues, can be important to your child’s development and progress through school.

Focus on their strengths

Every child is different and has differing strengths and weaknesses. By recognising and focusing on their strengths, celebrating them and building on them, your child’s self-esteem will be boosted. This helps them to believe in themselves in other areas too.

A confident, well-rounded child is both emotionally and mentally healthy. Daily encouragement and demonstration of the faith you have in them will boost their self-esteem and confidence.

Celebrate the positive things your child says and does. Feed their dreams and aspirations. Do not dwell on the negatives. If something negative happens, face it head on together. Teach your child to deal with it, and then let it go.

And finally

Resilience helps your child’s emotional wellbeing and prepares them for life.

Encourage your child, be consistent with them and, most of all, let them know they are loved.

Providing a loving, safe and supportive home environment certainly gives your child a good start in life - both emotionally and mentally.

A stable foundation makes it safer for them to bounce back from setbacks and learn skills that will help them to become independent, confident, well-balanced young adults.

  1. What exactly is 'emotional resilience'?
    We will all face adversity and challenges. These can get on top of us at times but emotional resilience is the ability to bounce back from them without any catastrophic effects
  2. The mental health charity, Mind, has some tips on developing emotional resilience. Which of the following do they NOT recommend?
    There are many things we can do to help us deal with the stresses we are under, from being more assertive to eating more healthily. The link to Mind in the introduction will take you to a page full of ideas
  3. Poor emotional resilience can have devastating effects. A recent study by the Office of National Statistics discovered that what percentage of children suffer from mental health problems?
    The most common conditions were anxiety and depression caused by stress. In half the cases, children were worried about their academic performance, so be sure you don't place too much pressure on your children to succeed
  4. Between 2014 and 2015, ChildLine carried out 276,956 counselling sessions with children. How many of these were for children with low self-esteem?
    Low self-esteem was the second highest reason children needed counselling - only family relationships came higher. Clearly, an ability to be resilient to their setbacks and keep on top of their worries is a major benefit to children
  5. Exam stress is also a major concern amongst children. Between 2013 and 2014 the number of children seeking counselling for exam stress rose by what percentage?
    The exam period can be very stressful for children - especially if their parents expect them to do well. To help them deal with the pressure it's a good idea to encourage your child to give 100% effort rather than to score 100% marks
  6. To help students deal with exam stress, the mental health charity Student Minds, has some tips. Which of the following does it NOT recommend?
    Rather than helping, caffeine actually impedes concentration in the long term. Taking time out to relax, socialise and have fun helps, as does having realistic expectations of what can be achieved. Talk to your child about what they think they can achieve - and don't cajole them into setting unrealistic targets
  7. Peer pressure often leads children astray. Which of the following is NOT good advice to help children deal with peer pressure?
    'Choose your friends wisely' is an old adage, but still true. If your child's friends are leading them into trouble then ask them to re-evaluate their relationships. Also, encourage them to stand up against any actions they know are wrong and talk to them about issues such as drugs and sex - if they don't get the facts from you they'll search elsewhere for information and may not get the true picture
  8. Many children can be prone to anxiety. If your child is nervous about an event, say an upcoming game of sports, how should you NOT respond?
    The first option sends your child the message that being worried about something prevents them from doing it. This belief can reinforce, rather than remove, any anxieties they have. It's much better to try to boost their confidence or search for solutions to their worries
  9. Low emotional resilience can affect children's self-esteem. Which of the following are possible signs of low self-esteem?
    There are many factors which influence a child's self-esteem, from how well they are doing at school to how they are doing socially. Their opinion of themselves is formed primarily by what others tell them, so make sure they know you love them and are proud of them
  10. There are many ways we can help our children become more emotionally resilient. Which is the most important?
    The three wrong answers are all means of boosting your child's emotional resilience, however, research has shown that children who feel safe, loved and supported at home are more resilient than those whose parents are less loving. Even children with inadequate parents can deal with life's adversities better if they have a supportive figure, such as a teacher or a grandparent


Author: Linda Innes

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