As a parent, it is natural to want to cushion your kids from disappointment, challenges and setbacks. But reality, as we know it, is not always cushy.
While it is not possible to shield your child from setbacks, you can teach him skills to hone resilience, which psychologists describe as the ability to bounce back from adversity.
Research has shown that this trait is critical to predicting which children do better later in life. Resilient children are more likely to be in stable relationships, and be successful in school and at work. Those who lack resilience risk having emotional, physical and social issues as they grow up.
“Building resilience and cultivating the appropriate mindset to solve problems and overcome uncertainties are important. With these attributes, students feel more equipped to deal with challenges, more willing to face them and more confident of their abilities and strengths,” said Ms Lim Kit Kwan, education psychologist and child protection manager at The Learning Lab.
Resilience-building is one of the features in The Learning Lab’s child-centric Teaching and Learning Model, which recognises the importance of nurturing a child’s positive attitude, habits and mindset towards learning. Here, experts from The Learning Lab share five ways on how to boost your child’s resilience.
1. Be there for your child
Building your child’s resilience starts with you, the parent. Children who are adept at coping with the ups and downs of life have at least one stable and secure relationship with an adult role model, such as a parent or caregiver, according to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.
Beyond strong parental bonds, forming good relationships with other supportive, caring adults matters, too. In fact, the more support your child has from other positive adults in his life, the more resilient he becomes, according to child development researcher Emmy Werner.
Look for a nurturing learning environment that provides more than just basic academic teaching. For instance, teachers who can take on a mentoring role in your child’s learning journey will help equip him with the skills to deal with the challenges in school and life.
2. Don’t sweat the small mistakes
It is not easy to see your child take a tumble. But how will your little one get a chance to learn from his mistakes or problem-solve if you eliminate every risk in his path?
Increasingly, experts say that exposure to reasonable risks is essential to child development and resilience-building. Instead of jumping in to fix things, be a “life buoy” and offer strategies to help your child work things out on his own.
Encourage your child to think of solutions when a problem arises, such as when tackling a tough piece of homework, during sibling arguments or while working on a project with his peers.
For example, productive questions like “What can I do to avoid making a similar mistake?” or “How can I manage my time better so that I can complete my homework on time?” will help him reflect on his mistakes and tackle challenges with a positive attitude.
3. Praise the right way
Child psychologist and educator Haim Ginott said that “praise, like penicillin, should not be administered haphazardly”. While the right praise can motivate your child and raise self-esteem, showering your child with person-centred compliments like “You’re so smart!” may backfire. When a child’s self-worth is pegged to fixed personal qualities such as intelligence, he may feel defeated if he doesn’t excel in certain areas.
What you can do instead is dole out meaningful encouragement in order to promote a growth mindset and a positive attitude towards learning. Try process praise, which emphasises the steps your child takes to achieve an outcome. For instance, you might say: “I can tell you’ve worked hard to complete the project. It was a good idea to do some research and brainstorming before you got started.”
According to Stanford University professor Carol Dweck, children with a growth mindset believe their abilities can improve over time compared to those with a fixed mindset. This helps children to hone resiliency so that they are more inclined to persevere even in challenging times.
4. Teach skills to manage emotions
With the right socio-emotional skills like self-awareness and self-control, children learn to be in tune with their feelings and consider the consequences of their actions. This helps them make better decisions that will aid them at every stage of their academic development, at home and later in life. In fact, emotional coaching is the key to raising resilient and happy children, according to American psychologist John Gottman.
The first step is to help your child recognise that it is normal to experience emotions, both positive and negative. Talking about his feelings helps him identify his emotions. It also provides an opportunity for you to help him cope and regulate emotions like anger, jealousy and sadness. At the same time, be sure to walk the talk by modelling the right behaviour when managing your own emotions.
5. Encourage grit and perseverance with smart goals
In a world of instant gratification, grit – a hallmark trait of a resilient person – is an overlooked but important key to success.
While starting out with some talent is helpful, it is not the No 1 criterion in determining one’s success. For instance, out of 210 child prodigies British psychologist Professor Joan Freeman studied, only six had tremendous success as adults.
What is the secret to the success stories? The ability to keep at it even when everyone else gives up. Based on her research at the University of Pennsylvania, renowned psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth shares that having grit, which she defines as “the perseverance and passion for long-term goals”, is a predictor of success.
To encourage perseverance, be sure to provide the right support to keep your child going even when the going gets tough. A way to do this is to encourage goal-setting by mapping out achievable steps. This helps your child become a more reflective and self-directed learner.
"The first step in getting your child ready for success is helping him or her think about what he or she wants to achieve in the year ahead, be it academic goals or personal goals," said Dr Lubna Alsagoff, director of curriculum at The Learning Lab.
A common mistake is to set unrealistic or vague targets, such as “score a distinction for Math” or “get better grades for all subjects”. Instead, guide your child to come up with clear, specific steps that will allow him to stay on track to achieve a long-term goal. Examples of realistic and measurable targets include “I will take 45 minutes to review what I learnt in school every weekend” or “I will go for tuition classes every Friday to improve weak areas”.
Better still, get your child to write down his goals and mark out his to-do tasks on paper. In a study by Dominican University, more than 70 per cent of people who wrote down their goals, said them aloud or sent weekly updates reported achieving their goals successfully, compared to just 35 per cent of those who merely thought about them.
Backed by 17 years of experience in tuition and enrichment services for preschool to pre-tertiary levels, The Learning Lab (TLL) empowers every student to be a resilient and self-directed learner at every stage of his academic development and personal growth. Find out how TLL builds resilience in its students to help them achieve their goals at school and in life at tll.sg/dreams-thelearninglab.