Learning to Bounce Back

Aug 02, 2021

What is Emotional Resilience, and Why is it Important? 

Emotional resilience is being able to cope and 'bounce back' from changing, often challenging, situations. There must be opportunities to develop this important life skill in childhood because resilient individuals, families, and communities can deal with difficulties and adversities better than those with less resilience. Evidence shows that resilience could contribute to healthy behaviours, higher qualifications and skills, better employment, better mental wellbeing, and a quicker or more successful recovery from illness.  

The School's Role 

Teachers have long recognised the importance of emotional resilience in children. Lots of school events, such a sports days and end of term performances, help children learn to cope with pressure and 'bounce back' if things don't go to plan. Daily classroom activities such as group work and competitions also help children to build emotional resilience.  So schools have a key opportunity to build resilience among children and young people. However, as children spend approximately 91% of their waking hours outside of school, it is essential that parents and carers know how to support their children in building their emotional resilience.  

Supporting Parents to Support their Children 

One of the first things to address is that 'emotional resilience' is not a term parents typically use. So, when communicating with parents about this issue, make sure you have a clear definition and consider using a simpler term like 'bounce back'.  

Parents need to be supported in giving their child opportunities to learn how to be emotionally resilient. We assume that parents know how to do that, but most parents don't understand what that means. So how can we communicate with parents to support those skills and develop resilient behaviours? A lot of it is about children internalising positive messages to build their self-esteem. You can't give a child self-esteem. It must grow from within – they need opportunities to develop it. 

Parents may worry and be anxious if their child indicates that they are not happy. Reassure parents that it is normal for children not to be happy all the time. Parents may need support in understanding the opportunities to build their children's resilience and problem solve. Resources such as the PEN Kindness Family Home Learning Sheets will help parents develop their child's emotional strength. Children need unconditional support from their families. 

Three Top Tips to Support Children to 'Bounce Back'.

  1. Build Resilience 

Parents can help children to build resilience and confront uncertainty by teaching them to solve problems independently. While the parent's gut reaction might be to jump in and support so that the child avoids dealing with discomfort, this weakens resilience. Children need to experience discomfort to learn to work through it and develop their problem-solving skills. Without this skill-set in place, children will experience anxiety and shut down and withdraw.   

  • Bouncing the problem back to the child with questions encourages the child to think through the issue and develop solutions.  
  • Teach Problem-Solving Skills. We all need help sometimes, and children need to know they have support. By mind mapping solutions with children, parents engage in the process of solving problems. 
  1. Promote Healthy Risk-Taking

What is a healthy risk? Something that pushes a child to go outside of their comfort zone but results in very little harm if they are unsuccessful. We are increasingly living in a risk-adverse society. Children are strongly discouraged from taking risks, e.g., running around the park, climbing trees etc. We hear children pulled back from situations of mild risk with parents telling them to "be careful". We see them avoiding risks in their learning, especially maths, because they're not used to taking risks in life. If parents are protecting them all the time or not allowing them to participate in appropriately risky activity, they're never going to be able to bounce back. 

  • Examples of 'healthy risks' include trying a new sport, participating in the school play, or striking up a conversation with a shy peer. When children avoid risk, they internalise the message that they are not strong enough to handle challenges. Conversely, when children embrace risks, they learn to push themselves.  
  1. Go Outside

Active family exercise helps strengthen the brain and make it more resilient to stress and adversity. While team sports are the most popular method of regular exercise for children, all children really need is time spent outdoors engaging in any physical activity.

  • If team sports do not appeal, encourage or introduce children to cycling, playing tag, or even just swinging at the playground. These are all great ways for children to engage in free play that also builds resilience. Resilience helps children navigate the obstacles they encounter as they grow. Of course, it's not possible to avoid stress but being resilient is one of the best ways to cope with it. 

For more tips and resources on supporting families to build their child's emotional resilience, become a PEN member or sign your school up to our Active Families Project.  

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