Raising a resilient child

Raising a resilient child

Recently Mums & Co invited me to a local event they were hosting – a talk by Dr Justin Coulson on ways to raise a resilient child.

First up: Google Dr Justin Coulson. Ok…so far, so good. He looks legit, doesn’t sound preachy or judgemental and has six (SIX) daughters. Tick. He also has a website with plenty of free resources and information. Double tick. I understand people need to make a living, but I do love it when experts and specialists clearly care enough about making a difference to make their knowledge readily available to anyone.

Secondly there’s a Mums & Co gift bag. Tick, tick, tick. I’m sold.

Dr Justin Coulson starts the conversation with a personal anecdote, but one I’m sure that everyone relates to. He’s in Kmart and his toddler wants a $2 toy. He lets her have the toy to avoid a tantrum. A few minutes later his daughter wants another toy, this time it costs $20. He wants to buy this toy too but his wife says no. You can’t bend this far to avoid a meltdown. The toy stays on the shelf. Cue meltdown.

Heads are nodding and there is a perceptible shift in the room. This is because we now know that Dr Coulson is not only a parenting expert – he’s one of us. (The guy’s a genius.)

What is resilience?

“Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from adversity and adapt to difficulty in positive ways.”

This is what we all want for our children, right? For them to be strong, flexible, and able to bounce back from problems.
Personally, having dealt with anxiety and depression on and off throughout my life has meant that I understand and appreciate the importance of resilience, and it’s been a key point for me with raising Everly.

Resilience levels in children are shown to be around 50-60% in 8 year olds but then drop dramatically over the next decade, to 20-30% in 18 year olds.

With 1 in 7 primary school kids and 1 in 4 teens experiencing mental health problems, building resilience from a very young age has never been more important.

Why is it important?

This one is simple. People who respond to adversity with resilience are:

– Healthier
– Happier
– More successful
– Less likely to become depressed

Obviously there are MANY factors that can batter your child’s resilience, and two things that Dr Coulson spoke about stood out to me:

Being told to “toughen up” or “get over it.”

Most parents who use this type of language would think that they’re helping their child by ‘toughening them up to face the big, bad world’, when in fact, it leaves them feeling dismissed and hurt that you’re not understanding or placing importance on their feelings. (When someone tells me to toughen up, I feel small and sad. So imagine how a child feels when they’re told the same thing!)

“But I don’t want to wrap them up in cotton wool!”

LUCKILY, there aren’t only two options. (Seriously, this was news to me, too.) There’s a huge grey area in between “toughening them up” and “wrapping them in cotton wool.” And that grey area, in between the two extremes, is where being a great parent and raising a resilient child lies.

Praise (too much of it!)

This was an eye opener. When a child is doing “badly” at something, you praise them to build them up. This will strengthen their confidence and help them do better. Right? Not necessarily.

Apparently by the age of 3 your kids are starting to figure out sincerity and the drive behind it. (I know, we’re screwed!)

Example: You may think that saying “Oooohhhh yummy broccoli! I love broccoli so much! OH YUM, it’s so good!” is going to make your child want to eat broccoli. In fact, they’re probably sitting there thinking, “She’s making a PRETTY BIG DEAL about how good this broccoli is. She doesn’t make this big a fuss when she eats cheese. I’m going to steer clear of the broccoli.”

By the age of about 5-6 children can start to infer negative connotations from being praised effusively. They recognise that you’re trying to build them up because they’re not doing well at something.

Instead, you can talk about what they’re doing: what they’ve succeeded at and what they’re struggling with. How they feel about it, what they can do and what you can do to help them.

On the flip side, if your child has done something great and they’re coming to you for praise and validation, first take the time to talk to them about how they’re feeling. Are they happy about the extra work and effort they put in to pass that maths test? Did that after school running training help with their cross country race? Help them feel proud of themselves, within themselves, before you let loose with all the praise you’re dying to give them. You want your children to be able to feel good themselves without relying on praise.

And when you DO let loose with the praise, focus on things like effort and strategy rather than intelligence. “I’m so proud of you for making such a big effort with this!” is more helpful than “I’m so proud of you, you’re so smart!”

Now, the reason you’re all here. How do I do the thing?

Dr Justin Coulson’s book has 9 points to raising a resilient child. I’ll go over the three that stood out for me.

Firstly: Who am I?

Something I didn’t realise was how important identity is for resilience. But it makes sense! Confident, well adjusted and resilient people always seem to have a strong sense of self.

Talk to your child (as much as possible) about how they fit in to their world. Tell them;

– How you met your partner
– Where you got married
– Where your families originate from
– How you chose their name
– What characteristics they’ve inherited from you and your partner
– Their “birth story”
– What your parents were like
– Where you went to school

There are so many things you can talk to your child about that will give them a stronger sense of who they are- and you can literally start this from BIRTH!

Next up: Psychological Flexibility

Flexible people are more resilient. And the best way to teach your children flexibility is to model it yourself.

Side note – does anyone else find it annoying that to raise a better child, you have to try to be a better person yourself? Lol jokes. But seriously; not only do you have to teach them to be flexible, you have to teach/know/act it yourself!

Have you noticed how your kids pick up your language, habits or even start mimicking chores? Likewise, they pick up on how you respond to different circumstances. Do you freak out when you drop something on the floor? Do you get angry in the car if someone cuts you off? Are you noticeably stressed when your house is messy? When you display rigid and inflexible behaviour and responses to situations, your kids pick up on it. Try to separate yourself from your emotions before acting.
Lead by example. Be patient, kind and compassionate. Show that you care about other people and their feelings. Let go of being perfect. Stay positive and use humour in stressful situations.

Haha! Easy peasy, right?!

Lastly: Screen Time vs Green Time

“Evidence does not support the possibility that screens make our children happy, help them achieve anything particularly productive, or live well-balanced lives.” Dr Justin Coulson.

In fact research suggests that any screen time for under 2’s can lead to language delays and over one hour a day in 2-5’s can lead to poorer social skills, memory recall, language delays and an increased risk of health issues.

The alternative you have to screen time, is “green time.” The skills children learn from playing, whether it’s indoors or outdoors, structured or unstructured, messy or clean play, all compound to helping build your child’s resilience. Fine motor skills, risk taking, problem solving, creative thinking, flexibility, social interaction, self control…all of these skills plus so many more promote physical and emotional flexibility, and a flexible child is a more resilient child.

I know as well as the next parent how easy it is to pop your child down in front of the TV when you need a break. (Or when you think that THEY need a break.) I regularly use the Paddington Bear movie at 4pm when I need to start dinner prep, we’ve had sick days where Everly lies on the couch and watches Peter Rabbit on repeat and she most definitely learned the words to “Wheels on the bus” from watching Singing Hands- not from me! But it’s so important to keep in mind all of the benefits that your kiddies will get from other activities, and how many other options there are.

Remember, children are born with varying degrees of sensitivity. But no matter what their personality, resilience can be taught and developed.


I’m giving away 3 copies of Dr Justin Coulson’s book, “9 ways to a resilient child” AND 3 subscriptions to the ParentTV site, which not only has videos and courses by Dr Coulson, but also hundreds of others by parenting experts and specialists. This site is now my go to for anything parenting related, it is an absolute game changer!

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