Building resilience in children takes thought and dedication. In this article I take a look at what resilience is, how to build it, and I suggest 5 creative resilience activities for kids.
It’s normal even for relatively resilient children to struggle at certain points in time. This doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with your child or with your parenting.
It may be the demands and expectations of the world around the child which are causing them to struggle with resilience.
Resilience is one of the most important areas you can support your child with.
They need to develop skills to manage setbacks throughout their lives.
So why not have some fun and build some resilience activities into your everyday lives?
What is Resilience?
Resilience is a critical skill that allows children to adapt and cope with challenges and stress as well as try new experiences. It involves having a positive mindset, a sense of control over life’s challenges, and effective coping skills to overcome obstacles. In essence it’s the ability to cope with stress, setbacks and trauma.
Does your child have a high level of resilience? Read on for some tips to build resilience which will be invaluable throughout their lives.
First let’s take a moment to consider why your child might be struggling with resilience.
Why Do Some Children Struggle With Resilience?
- Limited problem-solving skills.
- Unrealistic expectations (from those around them or their own inner expectations).
- High sensitivity.
- Trauma or life change.
- Lack of control leading to learned helplessness.
- Differences (such as neurodivergence / specific learning difficulties) which mean a child has to work harder because their environment isn’t adapted to their needs.
1. Limited Problem-Solving Skills
Children who haven’t learned effective problem-solving skills may find it difficult to cope with challenges and setbacks.
Without the ability to break down problems into manageable pieces and come up with solutions, children may feel overwhelmed and powerless when faced with adversity.
They need this to be modelled to them over and over again by adults before they can master it.
2. Unrealistic Expectations
Children who are expected to excel in all areas of their lives or who are perfectionists may find it more challenging to be resilient.
The relentless pressure to always perform at a high level can create anxiety, fear of failure, and a sense of inadequacy.
Whilst it’s great to have high standards, it’s also important to understand that “good enough” is healthier for your child’s wellbeing.
3. High Sensitivity
Highly sensitive children may struggle with resilience because they are more prone to experiencing intense emotions, which can be overwhelming and difficult to regulate.
Highly sensitive children have a lower threshold for stimuli, such as noise, light, and social interactions. They can get overstimulated, leading to stress and anxiety. This can make it harder for them to cope with challenges and setbacks, which can feel like more significant stressors.
4. Trauma or Life Change
Children who have experienced trauma or a major life change – such as bullying, illness or bereavement – may struggle with resilience.
Previous experiences shape our future responses. These events can have a lasting impact on a child’s sense of safety and security, making it more difficult for them to cope with stress and adversity.
On the other hand, coping successfully with these things can make a child feel more resilient, knowing that they do have what it takes to bounce back from life’s setbacks.
5. Lack of Control
Children who feel like they have little control over their lives may find it challenging to develop resilience. They may develop a sense of learned helplessness.
This can include children who are struggling or unhappy at school.
A child is often expected to fit in with their environment (such as school) rather than the environment being adapted to their needs.
The less an environment meets your needs, the harder you have to work just to keep your head above water.
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Five Resilience Activities for Children
These activities have been hand-picked because they build a wide range of resilience skills.
Each of the resilience activities below is suitable for children of all ages including teens.
Pick one or two to build into your daily routine to build a strong foundation of emotional resilience.
1. Gratitude Journal Resilience Activity
Encourage your child to start a gratitude journal, where they can write down things they are thankful for each day.
This resilience building activity is one of the easiest on my list – it often takes only 2 minutes. But making it a regular habit is the key to building resilience long-term.
Focusing on positive experiences and feelings can help build resilience and promote a positive mindset.
When we practice gratitude, we focus on the positive aspects of our lives, which can help shift our perspective and build a more positive outlook.
Gratitude can help us find meaning and purpose in difficult situations, and can even help us reframe negative experiences into positive ones.
Gratitude journals can also help children reflect on tough situations in a new light. What positive things can they take from negative events?
For example: “Although most people laughed at me when I fell over on stage, Jess didn’t laugh and she came over to see if I was okay afterwards. I’m grateful to have a true friend.”
2. Gratitude Walks: The Perfect Resilience Activity For Kids of Any Age
Take your child on a gratitude walk, where they can focus on things they are grateful for in nature, such as the trees, the sky, or animals.
These walks can promote positive emotions, mindfulness, and resilience.
You need to model how to do it. This is a resilience activity that will help you, too! Start by noticing some little details and pointing them out.
Those beautiful tiny petals on that flower.
The way the bee is drinking nectar from the flower.
The snail going about its everyday life.
Then spent some time looking at the bigger picture. Scan your horizon, What can you see that you feel grateful for in this moment?
The way the evening light is reflecting on nearby buildings.
The dramatic shapes of the clouds.
The beautiful blue sky in the distance.
Nature can not only help us feel gratitude for what we have. It can also give us a sense of awe at the tiny or huge creations of nature and man. Studies have shown that we have more positive mental health when we feel a sense of awe regularly. for example, it helps to put our worries into perspective.
Walking can also give us a sense of control and empowerment.
When we engage in physical activity, we can feel more in control of our bodies and our lives.
A sense of control is an important element of resilience.
Finally a walk can provide a sense of accomplishment and achievement, which can help boost self-esteem and confidence that we can do anything we set our minds to.
3. Art Therapy as a Resilience Activity
Whether or not your child has enjoyed art in the past, you can encourage them to use art as a form of self-expression and coping.
Through art, children can express emotional pain and difficult experiences in a safe way. This can help them process and understand their emotions, and provide a sense of relief and release.
It’s vital for resilience that children have a number of strategies for reducing stress and managing emotions, and art is just one great option. The act of creating art can also be incredibly relaxing.
However, do encourage the message that it’s not about being good at art.
It really doesn’t matter.
And if your child struggles to translate what’s in their head into something on paper, why not try digital art, or even AI art? For example, platforms like Midjourney can create incredible images from text prompts.
Art can also enhance self-awareness and self-esteem, sense of accomplishment and pride. By creating art, children can explore their interests, values, and strengths, and develop a greater sense of self-awareness. Clear values are important for positive mental health.
4. Role Models: Two Resilience Building Activity Ideas
Introduce your child to role models who demonstrate resilience. This could be famous athletes, entrepreneurs, historical figures or someone in your family or community.
Learning about other people’s stories of resilience can inspire kids and help them develop a sense of perseverance. It can help them identify their own values, which supports positive mental health.
Have you heard the saying, “you are the average of the five people you spend most time with”? I love this and I think supportive relationships are strongly connected with resilience.
It’s important for your child to learn that resilience doesn’t always mean coping by yourself.
Resilience can mean teaming up with others to face a challenge together, or simply allowing others to help you.
Encourage your child to spend time with the people who build them up and inspire them, whether that’s real life friends and family or following their role models.
Two Resilience Building Activities Using Role Models
- “Role Model Wall”: Together with your child, research and learn about role models who have shown resilience in different fields such as sports, science, art, or community leadership. Create a visual “Role Model Wall” in your child’s room or a shared space with pictures, quotes, and key achievements of these people. Regularly discuss what makes these people resilient and how your child can apply similar principles in their daily life.
- Developing a “What Would [Role Model] Do?” Mantra: Help your child identify a role model known for resilience and create a mantra or catchphrase inspired by that individual. For example, “What Would [Favorite Athlete] Do?” Whenever your child faces a challenge, remind them of this mantra, encouraging them to think and act as their resilient role model would. This simple strategy can become a powerful mental tool, helping them to channel the confidence and determination they admire in their role model.
5. Community Service to Build Resilience in Your Child
As a family, you could engage in a community service project, such as volunteering at a local food bank or animal shelter.
Serving others develops empathy, compassion, and a sense of purpose. Each of these qualities will increase your child’s resilience in the future.
When a child has a clear purpose, it gives them a sense of direction and motivation. They know what they want to achieve and why it’s important to them. This can help them stay focused and committed, even in the face of setbacks or challenges.
Volunteering is a resilience activity because it provides a sense of identity and a feeling of being part of something greater than ourselves. It can of course also give us valuable experience in handling difficult situations.
How to Build Resilience in Children: My Eight Top Parent Tips
1. Encourage Your Child Not To Give Up on Something They Are “Bad” At
If a child tries something – let’s say karate – finds it difficult, and then gives up, it goes without saying that they won’t get a chance to improve. They won’t have a chance to feel that incredible sense of joy and satisfaction when they have worked hard and achieved something great.
In adult life lots of things are difficult and it’s important for children to learn to give new things a really good shot, overcoming some stressful times or difficult times along the way.
For example, relationships can be hard but it’s not healthy to give up after the first argument or disagreement.
Finding a job or career, getting into university, or passing your driving test all require the development of resilience.
I have met many children who have tried multiple sports and clubs, and have given up on them all, staying in their comfort zone instead. After a while, this can make them feel like they are not actually good at anything.
2. Let Your Child Fail
Perfectionism and fear of failure are risk factors for young people developing a sense that they are not good enough.
o child can win the gymnastics competition every time or be top of the class in every assessment. It’s unhealthy not to be experienced in coping with failure.
Failure can become something to be feared and to be ashamed of. Fear of failure can be a significant problem which can create stress and anxiety disorders and I see this regularly in my child psychology clinic.
Ideally, your child will experience regular failure and regular success.
Failure makes the successes feel so much sweeter. It also allows your child to develop skills in losing or failing with grace and congratulating others who have succeeded in different ways.
This will make your child into a better friend, someone who has kindness and empathy for others and builds strong relationships.
3. Let Your Child Experience Difficult Emotions
Building resilience in children involves allowing them to experience that tough situation leading to difficult emotions, not rescuing them from it.
In the face of adversity, this allows the child to realise, “I can cope with this feeling”.
Listen to your child’s feelings about failure. In healthy development of emotions, failure should not be a viewed as a source of shame and it should be openly talked about. You child might feel sadness, anger, frustration or disappointment.
Label the emotions and allow your child to “sit with” them until they pass. Provide extra nurturing experiences if you can.
For example: “I know you feel frustrated and disappointed. It’s okay to feel like that, I know I would feel the same. Let me make you a nice warm drink and we can sit together for a little while.”
This is a great way to offer social support and offer a safe space for your child to come to terms with their experience.
Open, positive relationships help your child feel able to tolerate big feelings, which is one of the biggest protective factors for children’s mental health.
4. Encourage a Wide Range of Resilience-Building Experiences
Your child may be brilliantly academic or sporty. They may experience regular success and occasional failure. It is really important for them to get a wide range of different experiences, to develop resilience in different life skills as well as in daily routines.
Scouting and Guiding are great examples of activities which allow your child to gain new skills in areas they would not normally encounter, from survival skills to DIY, first aid to performing or trying a new sport.
It’s one thing to be resilient in playing football and be able to bounce back from a defeat, but it’s another to have the satisfaction of preparing a meal over a campfire. Both are valuable, both take practice!
Even in everyday life, encourage your child to take healthy risks.
For example, your child could develop their social skills by ordering for themselves for the first time in a restaurant, or approaching a new group of children in the playground. When they succeed in situations that present potential risks – and they usually will – it will be a micro-boost for their self-esteem.
The more healthy risks young children in particular take, the stronger their self-esteem will become.
Coping with small challenges boosts your child’s ability to cope with bigger ones, because they will use many of the same skills and strategies.
5. “Label It”: Identify Positive Ways Your Child is Already Resilient
Sit down with your child and work out their best skills, qualities and clever ideas for overcoming challenges.
First of all, think about some challenges they have overcome.
Managing to build a rollercoaster in Minecraft?
Getting picked for the school choir after the third time of trying?
Talk through what has happened in your child’s life and write down some ideas. You could make these into a colourful poster, for example: “Freya’s Resilience Poster”.
Pay close attention to personal qualities or individual characteristics which will boost your child’s resilience, such as determination, courage or a sense of humour.
What skills and clever ideas were used?
Perhaps your child managed to ask for help from a friend or family member?
Perhaps they used “positive self-talk” such as: “I can do it next time, I just need to work on my confidence and sing a bit louder.”
Resilient kids can recognise what has helped them manage stressful situations and what will help them next time.
6. Encourage Problem-Solving Activities to Build Resilience
Dealing with challenges can take some skill. Not all difficult situations have a solution, but many do. Teach your child that most things have a solution if we can figure it out.
Let’s imagine an eleven-year-old boy who is due to go on a school residential trip. He “failed” last year when there was 2-day school trip as he was too anxious to go on it.
The next trip is even longer (4 days). He is scared about being sick on the coach, and about missing his parents.
Taking each issue in turn, his dad talks through how the problem could be overcome in the best way so that the boy can enjoy the trip. They write down some ideas and then choose the best ones. These include:
- Taking a travel sickness pill.
- Sitting at the front of the coach, and taking some paper bags along just in case.
- Having a daily “check-in” with his favourite teacher on the trip, to talk through any homesickness or other difficult feelings.
As you can see, building resilience in children often involves having a clear plan as well as a positive attitude, to prepare for potential difficulties in a healthy way.
You will also notice that at least one adult supportive relationship is crucial to your child’s ability to develop resilience.
A supportive parent can help a child by coaching, modelling and co-regulating their feelings, until the child can do this by themselves.
7. Teach “Growth Mindset” For Maximum Resilience in Kids
Growth Mindset, an idea developed by psychologist Carol Dweck, has been embraced by schools. It is also useful to teach at home.
A fixed mindset is:
“I am terrible at maths.”
A growth mindset might be:
“I need to practise my times tables so that I can get better at maths”.
Our brains are growing and developing all the time. The more we do something, the more we strengthen neuronal networks in the brain, making the skill feel more natural each time.
Nothing is static.
All areas of the brain can be strengthened, so it doesn’t matter if it’s a motor skill (such as a dance or gymnastics move) an academic skill (such as writing stories) or a friendship skill (making two-way conversation).
If you hear your child making a statement which reflects a fixed mindset, gently challenge them to swap it to a growth mindset one instead. This will help develop their prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that manages rational thinking and planning.
Growth mindset is associated with a lower risk of mental health issues.
8. Model Resilience
Children learn so much by watching how their parents behave and respond. This is good news and a fantastic opportunity!
Whenever something does not work out or you experience failure, model a positive response to your child.
During tough times or times of stress or change, show them that you can withstand the storm and bounce back to a better place.
It’s okay to let your child see your emotions about it; this is a protective factor for your child. It teaches your child that expressing emotions is healthy and normal. It also helps them see that the emotion will pass.
Summary: How to Build Resilience in Children
Resilience is a critical skill for children to cope with challenges and stress, try new experiences, and manage setbacks throughout their lives.
Some reasons why children may struggle with resilience include limited problem-solving skills, unrealistic expectations, high sensitivity, trauma or life changes, lack of control, and neurodevelopmental differences.
Choose one of my five resilience activities and over time you will notice a marked difference in your child’s resilience.
Try to follow my eight top parent tips too.
Think of building resilience as a long game: Resilience doesn’t emerge over night, but gradually as a result of interactions with the world and learning experiences.
Overall, building resilience in children involves a combination of supportive parenting, positive experiences, and developing essential coping skills to help children navigate life’s challenges with confidence and adaptability.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the best way to build resilience in children?
The best way to build resilience in children is through a combination of supportive parenting, positive experiences, and developing essential coping skills. Encouraging them not to give up on challenging tasks, allowing them to experience difficult emotions and providing nurturing support, offering problem-solving activities, and modeling resilience in your own behavior are effective strategies.
What are the best resilience activities for kids?
The best resilience activities for kids include starting a gratitude journal to foster a positive mindset, going on gratitude walks to promote mindfulness, using art therapy for self-expression and coping, introducing role models to inspire perseverance, and engaging in community service to develop empathy and purpose.
What are the best resilience games for students?
Here are three of the best resilience games for students in a classroom setting:
- Gratitude Scavenger Hunt Resilience Game: Organize a scavenger hunt where students have to find things they are grateful for in their surroundings. For example, they might find something beautiful in nature, a helpful classmate, or a positive message in the school.
- Art Therapy Resilience Game (Emotions Art Show): Have a classroom art show where students create artwork that expresses different emotions they have experienced. Encourage them to discuss the emotions behind their artwork and how art helps them cope with their feelings.
- Community Service Resilience Activity: Random Acts of Kindness: Challenge students to perform random acts of kindness for their peers or members of the community. This could be helping a classmate with their work, offering a compliment, or doing something nice for a family member.
How can I build resilience in a sensitive child?
To build resilience in a sensitive child, encourage them to face regular small challenges. Offer praise for effort, not just success, and model positive coping strategies. Provide opportunities to solve problems and make independent decisions. Encourage open communication, and show that it’s okay to ask for help.
What does resilience in kids look like?
Resilience in kids doesn’t look a certain way. For example, some kids are outwardly resilient whereas others may seem sensitive but have an inner steeliness and confidence. Overall, resilient kids are those who can come back from challenges and setbacks.
Here’s a resilient child example:
Gemma is a twelve year old girl who has faced numerous challenges in her young life, including the divorce of her parents and moving to a new school. Despite these obstacles, Gemma has shown a remarkable ability to adapt and thrive.
Here’s what resilience in Gemma looks like:
- Adaptability: Adjusts to change.
- Emotional Regulation: Manages feelings.
- Problem-Solving: Finds solutions.
- Positive Mindset: Sees growth in challenges.
- Seeks Support: Asks for help.
- Perseverance: Keeps trying.
- Self-Awareness: Knows strengths/weaknesses.
- Learns from Mistakes: Recovers from failure.
Dr Lucy Russell is a UK clinical psychologist who works with children and families. Her work involves both therapeutic support and autism assessments. She is the Clinical Director of Everlief Child Psychology, and also worked in the National Health Service for many years.
In 2019 Lucy launched They Are The Future, a support website for parents of school-aged children. Through TATF Lucy is passionate about giving practical, manageable strategies to parents and children who may otherwise struggle to find the support they need.
Lucy is a mum to two teenage children. She lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, children, rescue dog and three rescue cats. She enjoys caravanning and outdoor living, singing and musical theatre.
Join They Are The Future’s free Facebook group for regular tips on supporting teens and pre-teens with their mental health! Join the group: Parent Tips for Positive Child Mental Health UK.