Dr Justin Coulson: There’s a bunch of things we can do to boost resilience. And they’re not that tough.

by |March 31, 2017

By Dr. Justin Coulson

My wife and I always intended to have a big family. I wanted four kids. Kylie wanted six. When we got to number five, Kylie was pretty satisfied to call it quits. In the end, I was the one begging for “just one more”. And around a year later our sixth daughter was born.

While our children have all experienced a typical developmental pathway, there have been plenty of significant challenges over our past 18 years of childrearing. From kids with health problems to learning difficulties, speech and language challenges, social hiccups, academic aches, we have watched our children struggle with the adversities life throws in their path.

In spite of those adversities, it’s safe to say that our kids are pretty resilient. They tackle tough challenges, work through difficulties, keep their heads up, and are willing to have a go at pretty much anything.

Why is that?

Perhaps one reason is that we’ve consistently made an effort to talk with our kids about what’s going on in their lives. Regular (usually daily) catch-ups and check-ins help them know that they matter and that we care. Whether that’s in the car, at the dinner table, or when we tuck them into bed at night, it’s those quick chats that make the difference.

According to Resilient Youth Australia, around 45% of Aussie kids aged 8-9 years have good or high levels of resilience. By the time they’re 17-18 years only 27% of Aussie teens are highly resilient.

During a recent conversation with a school counsellor, we discussed a challenging cohort of girls in one of their more senior classes. The counsellor told me that at least half, and possibly as many as two-thirds of this particular cohort were working with counsellors or psychologists to overcome issues. Their resilience was devastatingly low.

While these numbers sound scary, they are not far worse than broader findings on resilience in Australian youth. According to Resilient Youth Australia, around 45% of Aussie kids aged 8-9 years have good or high levels of resilience. By the time they’re 17-18 years only 27% of Aussie teens are highly resilient.

Following my conversation with the counsellor, I penned an article for kidspot about how to raise a resilient child. The post went bananas. I re-shared it a few times over the subsequent months and each time it reached more people and gained more interest. At that point I knew I needed to write the book.

9 Ways to a Resilient Child explores the best psychological evidence for raising resilience in our kids (and ourselves). It’s exciting to read of all the ways we can easily start to raise our children’s (and our own) resilience.

But as I researched for the book, I discovered that we do a bunch of things to raise resilience, thinking they’re good things to do, where we may actually be reducing resilience instead. I found a handful of myths about resilience, and so I set about slaying these sacred cows from the parenting world – mistaken notions of what is good for resilience. For example, it turns out that not all kids are resilient; what doesn’t kills us won’t always make us stronger. That means we need to respond to our kids differently when they experience challenges.

I discovered that telling kids to toughen up doesn’t toughen them up: it decreases their resilience. Praising children often harms resilience and leads kids to question their worth. And competition creates comparisons which are almost guaranteed to ruin resilience. All of these myths are wrecking the resilience of our kids as we push for them to be tougher, tell them how great they are, and urge them to be winners.

…as I researched for the book, I discovered that we do a bunch of things to raise resilience, thinking they’re good things to do, where we may actually be reducing resilience instead.

But there’s a bunch of things we can do to boost resilience. And they’re not that tough. In fact, all they require is that we stay close to our kids, talk to them lots, and give them opportunities to develop in healthy, positive ways. When we help them work out who they really are (and who their family is), be psychologically flexible and adaptable rather than rigid, exercise self-control, overcome stinking thinking and develop a growth mindset by looking at how they can progress and try new things, and get off those damn devices (!!) to get some green time rather than screen time, they become more resilient.

More than anything, we raise resilient kids by building strong relationships together, helping them know they matter more than we can say, and letting them know that whatever happens, we’re always going to be there for them.

About our Guest Blogger: Justin Coulson

Justin Coulson left school at Year 10 to pursue a successful career as a radio broadcaster. After his first child was born, Justin realised he just wasn’t the dad he wanted to be. To learn more about parenting, he started studying, eventually completing a PhD in Positive Pyschology and Parenting.

He now lives with his wife and six daughters in Wollongong, NSW, but travels Australia constantly, giving talks to parents, teachers and professionals. He is also the author of 21 Days to a Happier Family.

9 Ways to a Resilient Childby Dr Justin Coulson

9 Ways to a Resilient Child

Raising Kids Who'll Bounce Back from Adversity and Challenging Times

by Dr Justin Coulson

Have you ever watched your child give up too quickly and easily, moaning 'I can't'. Perhaps your child resists going to school because they don't like their teacher or their friend rejected them. Maybe they failed in a sporting contest or an exam.

One of the most frequent questions Kidspot parenting expert Dr Justin Coulson is asked is 'How can I help my child become resilient?' Friendship problems, bullying, physical changes and parenting styles are just some of the issues that can affect our children's ability to bounce back from difficulty and adapt...

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