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The “Toughen Up?” Myth; The Softer Side To Resilience

How do you tell a resilient child from an unresilient one?

While the Covid generation has shown us how resilient kids can be, the rising mental ill-health stats is also testament to the fact that not all children can, or do, ‘bounce back’.

Resilience is easily misunderstood; some personality traits might look like ‘poor resilience’.

For example, those children who quickly get labelled as over-sensitive or shy are often actually highly-attuned; they’re the empath observing from distance, who’ll decide what to do, when, and on their own terms, without being swayed by anyone else.

These qualities aren’t always a sign of fragility that they’re often interpreted as. They’re not instantly recognisable as forms of resilience, but they are and, IMO, should be more highly prized.

Likewise, while many of the gregarious, self-assured children are tough-cookies, others aren’t as robust and confident as we might think.

Those ‘natural leader’ qualities may be masking a child who simply doesn’t cope well with not being the decision-maker or the loudest voice, with having to flex and bend and accommodate others’ needs if they don’t align well with their own.
In other words, vocal and influential doesn’t necessary equate to resilience.

But then, of course, there is plain, old emotional fragility; those times when our children are easily defeated, give up too soon, lack or lose faith in themselves, need constant reassurance and/or are riddled with anxiety about what they can’t manage.

So how do we help in those moments?
Many of our responses are instinctive; those that start with ‘at least’ and ‘yes, but’ fall out of our mouths far too readily.
Of course, there’s a time to ‘look at the sunny side’, but sugar-coating doesn’t tend to help much in the long run.
On the contrary, we can inadvertently dismiss what’s important to our child as not important to us.

So what do we do instead?
Resilience has many faces. While it’s easy to declare our kids need to ‘toughen up’, or ‘learn to cope’ it’s a conditioned response for many of us; and quite frankly, a myth; that leaving them to it ‘learn the hard way’ will do the job.

Let’s never teach the children we live and work with to expect nobody will help them when they need it the most.
Doing with is not the same as doing for… And the seeds of resilience will grow towards the sun much more readily with a structure to support them.

Here are three simple ways to help;

Co-problem Solve
The alternative may be time-consuming and frustrating, but ‘fix it’ mentality tends to be a very short-term win.
Instead, actively involving our kids in solving their own problems; coaching them through the process of decision-making and action-taking; builds up their internal self-image.
It helps them to see themselves as a capable, competent human being; that is the bedrock of resilience.

Allow Them To Sit With Discomfort
I’m not saying leave a child in distress, but we can help them understand that not all discomfort is unsafe, and still be empathetic at the same time. 

When they learn to sit with, and through, those difficult feelings; to tolerate them, rather than give up or turn away from them; they’ll learn to recognise that difficulties can, and do, pass.

Delayed Gratification
Who doesn’t find booking a holiday, even a year in advance, enormously satisfying?
Especially if the here-and-now is proving to be a hard slog for our kids, keeping their ‘eye on the prize’; something to look forward to; can be a significant and mighty powerful coping mechanism. 

We can still; in fact I would argue that we must; accept and validate whatever it is they’re struggling with. If their world feels gloomy and dark, us insisting it isn’t won’t change that.

But ‘looking forward’ prevents them from getting stuck in the dark place…It’s about keeping them moving through it with perspective; there might be a big cloud in the way right now, but the sun is still there…


And then they cope. And when they do cope, what happens? They also learn that ‘I CAN cope’.
It’s an upward spiral!

That’s the premise of this image ; it’s part ofPip & Acorn’s Little Notes‘, a resource I created to support children’s emotional intelligence and wellbeing, and resilience is just one of several skills that are discreetly at the heart of each of the 8 designs.

This resource is the simplest, easiest, and loveliest way to keep your kids’ cup of wellbeing and self-esteem full to the brim!

They’re only £9.99 for a gorgeous tin of 32 Little Notes (4 x 8 designs), and still available with FREE P&P.
You can get yours here. (Sorry UK only ATM)

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