5 resilience builders for kids

Are you concerned about the amount of time your kids are spending on digital devices or social media?  Do you find it difficult to find ‘free time’ with the kids?  Do you wish your kids were able to enjoy the freedom of childhood that you once experienced?  

If the answer is yes to any of these questions then you are not alone - me too!  Many families struggle with the balance between work, family and modern life and as a result, our lifestyle choices may be having a profound impact on our kids. 

Through our Explorer program for kids, I have many conversations with parents, schools and kids I have learned that resilience is a critical foundation to helping kids thrive, bounce and overcome adversity.  It is perhaps our greatest source of personal power and also natural defence.  In working with many corporates across Australia, I have noticed that it is also one key area of deficit in many fully grown adults.     

To understand why resilience is so important, it is worth looking at the recipe that makes up a resilient human being.  Psychologist Al Siebert, PHD comes to the rescue:

  1. All round optimal Health
  2. Synergistic living - making life easy
  3. Accepting and embracing serendipity
  4. Curiosity
  5. Being both optimistic & pessimistic
  6. Self-resourcefulness 
  7. Having positive expectations

On a scale of 1-10, run a quick analysis on each of these areas to see how resilient you feel right now.  Then try analysing someone close to you, maybe your kids. In doing this, we can gauge opportunities and deficits in our resilience at any given time.  How we respond will also change depending on our immediate circumstances and we should also be aware that our opinion our own resilience may differ to how someone else perceives us.  Our feeling of resilience fluctuates and that is ok, it is the skills of resilience that we need to preserve and invest in to ensure lasting success.  

 With this recipe in mind, here are some tips to developing lasting resilience skills in kids.  

Avoid burn-out

Most junior school aged kids are not yet skilled enough to identify when they are over-tired or strained.  Instead, classic symptoms such as poor behaviour, grumpiness and task avoidance present themselves. As parents, we can then fall into the trap of trying to correct resultant behaviour rather than address what caused it.  Optimal mental and physical health is a cornerstone of resilience, so avoid over-committing your kids so they can restore their energy and avoid burn-out.

Boredom is the greatest gift

Allow kids free time to play in their room or in the garden away from the distraction of devices, TV, friends and formal activities.  This ‘me time’ helps to foster creativity and problem solving skills.  Kids may complain at first, but this is the first step to helping them make sense of ambiguity - an important skill as they grow older.  Boredom leads to curiosity and “curiosity is the engine of achievement” to quote Sir Ken Robinson, leading international educator.  

Don’t focus on winning, instead focus on not losing

An over emphasis on competition can result in a lack of empathy for others and this is one of the most in-demand traits for leaders in society.  Turn the conversation around to instead focus on personal excellence and how well your child can encourage and grow others around them. This will be the foundation of how they develop self-confidence, close friendships, respect for others and acknowledge diversity.

Failure is good

If we provide too much of a safety net for our kids, we risk curtailing their ability to cope with uncertainty and think creatively.  Calculated risk is the precursor to innovation, so let your kids experiment, make mistakes and fail in order that they can grow to be bigger and stronger.  Not only will they develop the mental pathways to solve problems, they will also have a deeper appreciation for risk and a willingness to be ok with failure.  People that have succeeded on the back of failure have become our most celebrated humans.

Step into nature

This is not so easy for many inner city families, but an essential aspect of resilience.  Scientists at the University of Utah have highlighted just how important nature is on our mental and physical wellbeing, contributing significantly to our mood, expectations, ability to restore energy and think more clearly.  The first step for many of us is to recognise the importance of nature and then make time to get outside.   Kids need to feel a sense of belonging in nature.  

We would love to add to this list so please send us your comments on resilience.  


Mark McOnie is the founder of Branch Out, an adventure company which facilitates experiences across Australia.  Mark is passionate about developing young people and created  Explorer Club to help kids develop a spirit of adventure in nature.


Mark McOnie