Building Resilience in Children – 20 Practical, Powerful Strategies (Backed by Science)

Building Resilience in Children - 20 Practical, Powerful Strategies

All children are capable of extraordinary things. There is no happiness gene, no success gene, and no ‘doer of extraordinary things’ gene. The potential for happiness and greatness lies in all of them, and will mean different things to different kids. We can’t change that they will face challenges along the way. What we can do is give them the skills so these challenges are never able to break them. We can build their resilience. 

Resilience is being able to bounce back from stress, challenge, tragedy, trauma or adversity. When children are resilient, they are braver, more curious, more adaptable, and more able to extend their reach into the world. 

The great news is that resilience is something that can be nurtured in all children. 

Resilience and the brain. Here’s what you need to know. 

During times of stress or adversity, the body goes through a number of changes designed to make us faster, stronger, more alert, more capable versions of ourselves. Our heart rate increases, blood pressure goes up, and adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone) surge through the body. In the short-term, this is brilliant, but the changes were only ever mean to be for the short-term. Here’s what happens …

The stress response is initiated by the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for our instinctive, impulsive responses. From there, messages are sent to the brain to release its chemical cocktail (including adrenaline and cortisol) to help the body deal with the stress. When the stress is ongoing, the physiological changes stay switched on. Over an extended period of time, they can weaken the immune system (which is why students often get sick during exams), the body and the brain.

Stress can also cause the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain to temporarily shut down. The prefrontal cortex is the control tower of the brain. It is involved in attention, problem solving, impulse control, and regulating emotion. These are known as ‘executive functions’. Sometimes not having too much involvement from the pre-frontal cortex can be a good thing – there are times we just need to get the job done without pausing to reflect, plan or contemplate (such as crying out in pain to bring help fast, or powering through an all-nighter). Then there are the other times. 

Resilience is related to the capacity to activate the prefrontal cortex and calm the amygdala. When this happens, the physiological changes that are activated by stress start to reverse, expanding the capacity to recovering from, adapt to, or find a solution to stress, challenge or adversity. 

How does resilience affect behaviour?

Children will have different levels of resilience and different ways of responding to and recovering from stressful times. They will also have different ways of showing when the demands that are being put upon them outweigh their capacity to cope. They might become emotional, they might withdraw, or they might become defiant, angry or resentful. Of course, even the most resilient of warriors have days where it all gets too much, but low resilience will likely drive certain patterns of behaviour more often. 

Can resilience be changed?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Absolutely resilience can be changed. Resilience is not for the genetically blessed and can be strengthened at any age. One of the most exciting findings in the last decade or so is that we can change the wiring of the brain through the experiences we expose it to. The right experiences can shape the individual, intrinsic characteristics of a child in a way that will build their resilience. 

Now for the how. Building resilience in children. 

Building small humans into healthy, thriving big ones isn’t about clearing adversity out of their way. Of course, if we could scoop them up and lift them over the things that would cause them to stumble, that would be a wonderful thing, but it wouldn’t necessarily be doing them any favours. A little bit of stress is life-giving and helps them to develop the skills they need to flourish. Strengthening them towards healthy living is about nurturing within them the strategies to deal with that adversity. Here’s how.

  1. Resilience needs relationships, not uncompromising independence.

    Research tells us that it’s not rugged self-reliance, determination or inner strength that leads kids through adversity, but the reliable presence of at least one supportive relationship. In the context of a loving relationship with a caring adult, children have the opportunity to develop vital coping skills. The presence of a responsive adult can also help to reverse the  physiological changes that are activated by stress. This will ensure that the developing brain, body and immune system are protected from the damaging effects of these physiological changes. Anyone in the life of a child can make a difference – family, teachers, coaches – anyone.

  2. Increase their exposure to people who care about them.

    Social support is associated with higher positive emotions, a sense of personal control and predictability, self-esteem, motivation, optimism, a resilience. Kids won’t always notice the people who are in their corner cheering them on, so when you can, let them know about the people in their fan club. Anything you can do to build their connection with the people who love them will strengthen them.

    ‘I told Grandma how brave you were. She’s so proud of you.’

  3. Let them know that it’s okay to ask for help.

    Children will often have the idea that being brave is about dealing with things by themselves. Let them know that being brave and strong means knowing when to ask for help. If there is anything they can do themselves, guide them towards that but resist carrying them there. 

  4. Build their executive functioning.

    Strengthening their executive functioning will strengthen the prefrontal cortex. This will help them manage their own behaviour and feelings, and increase their capacity to develop coping strategies. Some powerful ways to build their executive functioning are:

    •  establishing routines;  

    •  modelling healthy social behaviour; 

    •  creating and maintaining supportive reliable relationships around them;  

    •  providing opportunities for their own social connections;  

    •  creative play;  

    • board games (good for impulse control (taking turns), planning, working memory, and mental flexibility (the ability to shift thoughts to an alternative, better pattern of thought if the situation requires); 

    •  games that involve memory (e.g. the shopping game – ‘I went shopping and I bought a [puppy]’; the next person says, ‘I went shopping and I bought a [puppy and a bike for my t-rex]’; next person … ‘I went shopping and I bought [a puppy, a bike for my t-rex and a hot air balloon] – the winner is the last one standing who doesn’t forget something on the shopping list;  

    •  exercise;  

    •  giving them opportunities to think and act independently (if they disagree with you and tell you why you’re wrong, there’s a plus side – their executive functioning is flourishing!);

    •  providing opportunities for them to make their own decisions.

  5. Encourage a regular mindfulness practice.

    Mindfulness creates structural and functional changes in the brain that support a healthy response to stress. It strengthens the calming, rational prefrontal cortex and reduces activity in the instinctive, impulsive amygdala. It also strengthens the connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. When this connection is strong, the calming prefrontal cortex will have more of a hand in decisions and behaviour. See here for fun ways that children can practice mindfulness.

  6. Exercise.

    Exercise strengthens and reorganises the brain to make it more resilient to stress. One of the ways it does this is by increasing the neurochemicals  that can calm the brain in times of stress. Anything that gets kids moving is stellar, but of course, if you can make it fun that pretty much grants you hero status. Here are some ideas, but get them thinking and they’ll have plenty of their own:

    • throw a frisbee; 

    kick a ball;  

    • give a hula-hoop a spin; 

    dance stars;  

    walk the dog;

    • superhero tag (the tagged one stands in the middle of a circle on the ground, a superhero saves them by using their superhero powers to fly with running feet through the circle); 

    detective (in the park or backyard … first one to find five things that are green; or five things starting with ‘s’; or seven things that could be used for dress-ups; or ten things that smell gorgeous – ready, set, go!).

  7. Build feelings of competence and a sense of mastery.

    Nurture that feeling in them – that one that reminds them they can do hard things. You’ll be doing this every time you acknowledge their strengths, the brave things they do, their effort when they do something difficult; and when you encourage them to make their own decisions. When they have a sense of mastery, they are less likely to be reactive to future stress and more likely to handle future challenges.

    ‘You’re a superstar when it comes to trying hard things. You’ve got what it takes. Keep going. You’ll get there.’

  8. Nurture optimism.

    Optimism has been found to be one of the key characteristics of resilient people. The brain can be rewired to be more optimistic through the experiences it is exposed to. If you have a small human who tends to look at the glass as being half empty, show them a different view. This doesn’t mean invalidating how they feel. Acknowledge their view of the world, and introduce them to a different one. (See here for more ways to nurture optimism in children.)

    ‘It’s disappointing when it rains on a sports day isn’t it. Let’s make the most of this. What’s something we can do on a rainy day that we probably wouldn’t do if it was sunny?’ The idea is to focus on what is left, rather than what has been lost. 

  9. Teach them how to reframe.

    The ability to reframe challenges in ways that feel less threatening is linked to resilience. Reframing is such a valuable skill to have. In times of difficulty or disappointment, it will help them to focus on what they have, rather than what they’ve lost. To build this skill, acknowledge their disappointment, then gently steer them away from looking at what the problem has cost them, towards the opportunities it might have brought them.

    For example, if a rainy day has meant sport has been cancelled,

    ‘I understand how disappointed you are about not playing today. I’d be disappointed too. What can we do because of the rain that we might not have been able to do otherwise?’ (If they’re really disappointed they might need your help.) ‘You could snuggle up and read a book, watch a movie, play a game inside, walk in the rain, we could cook and throw a pretend party or have a fancy afternoon tea – with very fancy clothes of course, and jewels and fancy shoes and china plates and fancy glasses and maybe even … a tablecloth – but no forks – we are not eating cake with forks, no way – that’s just too far.’

    Let there be ridiculous ideas too. This will let them push past the obvious and come up with something that is beautifully unique. It will also encourage them to question any limits or ideas about how things ‘should’ be done. 

    ‘Maybe we could have a picnic in the rain, or a beach party. Maybe we could paint ourselves with mud, or wash the dog in the rain, or make a bubble bath out there and wash ourselves!’ Are there ways they can turn this into interesting ideas.

  10. Model resiliency. 

    Imitation is such a powerful way to learn. The small humans in your life will want to be just like you, and they’ll be watching everything. Without pitching it above what they can cope with, let them see how you deal with disappointment. Bringing them into your emotional world at appropriate times will help them to see that sadness, stuckness, disappointment are all very normal human experiences. When experiences are normalised, there will be a safety and security that will open the way for them to explore what those experiences mean for them, and experiment with ways to respond.

    ‘I’m disappointed that I didn’t get the job, but that’s because it was important to me. It’s nice to have things that are important to you, even if they don’t end the way you want them to. I did my very best in the interview and I know I’ll be okay. That one wasn’t the job for me, but I know there is going to be one that is perfect. I just have to keep trying and be patient.

  11. Facing fear – but with support.

    Facing fear is so empowering (within the limits of self-preservation of course – staying alive is also empowering) but to do this, they need the right support – as we all do. Kids can be fairly black and white about things so when they are faced with something difficult, the choices can seem like only two – face it head on or avoid it at all costs. But there is a third option, and that is to move gradually towards it, while feeling supported and with a certain amount of control. See here for the stepladder, which explains how to edge them gently and safely towards the things that challenge them.

  12. Encourage them to take safe, considered risks.

    Let them know that the courage they show in doing something brave and difficult is more important than the outcome. Age-appropriate freedom lets them learn where their edges are, encourages them to think about their decisions, and teaches them that they can cope with the things that go wrong. When they take risks they start to open up to the world and realise their capacity to shape it. There’s magic in that for them and for us.

    ‘I love how brave you are. When you try harder and harder things, they might not  always work out, but it means you’re getting stronger, smarter, braver and you’ll be closer to getting it next time.’

  13. Don’t rush to their rescue.

    It is in the precious space between falling and standing back up again that they learn how to find their feet. Of course, sometimes scooping them up and giving them a steady place to be is exactly what they need to find the strength to move forward. The main thing is not to do it every time. Exposure to stressors and challenges that they can manage during childhood will help to ensure that they are more able to deal with stress during adulthood. There is evidence that these early experiences cause positive changes in the prefrontal cortex (the ‘calm down, you’ve got this’ part of the brain), that will protect against the negative effects of future stress. Think of it like immunisation – a little bit of the pathogen, whether it’s a virus or something stressful, helps to build up resistance or protect against the more severe version. 

  14. Meet them where they are.  

    Resilience isn’t about never falling down. It’s about getting back up again, and there’s no hurry for this to happen. All of us experience emotional pain, setback, grief and sadness sometimes. Feelings always have a good reason for being there, even if they can feel a little pushy at times. The key for kids is to learn to respect those feelings (even the bad ones), but not let them take charge and steer towards trouble. Sadness and grief, for example, can make us want to withdraw for a little while. It is during the withdrawal that information is reflected upon, assimilated and processed so that balance can be found again. If this is rushed, even if it is in the name of resilience, it can stay as a gentle rumble and show up through behaviour, sometimes at wildly unexpected times.

  15. Nurture a growth mindset. We can change, and so can other people. 

    Research has found that children who have a growth mindset – the belief that people have the potential to change – are more likely to show resilience when things get tough. Compared to kids who believe that bullies will always be bullies and victims will always be victims, kids who believe that people can change report less stress and anxiety, better feelings about themselves in response to social exclusion, and better physical health. See here for the step by step on how to nurture a growth mindset.

  16. Let them know that you trust their capacity to cope.

    Fear of failure isn’t so much about the loss but about the fear that they (or you) won’t be able to cope with the loss. What you think matters – it really does. You’re the one they will look to as a gauge for how they’re going. If you believe they have it in them to cope with the stumbles along the way, they will believe this too. This isn’t always easy. We will often feel every bump, bruise, fall or fail. It can be heartbreaking when they struggle or miss out on something they want, not because of what it means for us, but because of what we know it means for them. But – they’ll be okay. However long it takes, they’ll be okay. When you decide, they’ll decide. 

  17. Build their problem-solving toolbox.

    Self-talk is such an important part of problem-solving. Your words are powerful because they are the foundation on which they build their own self-talk. Rather than solving their problems for them, start to give them the language to solve their own. Some ideas:

    •  What would [someone who they see as capable] do?

    •  What has worked before?

    •  Say as many ideas as you can in two minutes, even the silly ones? Lay them on me. Go.

    •  How can we break this big problem into little pieces?

    So say, for example, the problem is, ‘What if I miss you or get scared when I’m at Grandmas?’ Validate them first, then start giving them the problem-solving language without handing them solution,

    ‘You might miss me. I’ll miss you too. It’s really normal to miss people you love, even if you’re with people you love being with. What do you think might help if that happens?’ or, ‘What would [Superman/ Dad/ big sister who is practicing to rule the universe] do?’ or ‘What sort of things do you do here at home that help you to feel cozy or safe?’ I know you always have great ideas.’

  18. Make time for creativity and play.

    Problem-solving is a creative process. Anything that strengthens their problem-solving skills will nurture their resilience. Children are naturally curious, inquisitive and creative. Give them the space and the time to play and get creative, and they’ll do the rest. 

  19. Shhh. Let them talk.

    Try to resist solving their problems for them. (Oh but so tempting, I know!) Instead, be the sounding board as they take themselves to wherever they need to be. As they talk, their mind is processing and strengthening. The sparks that are flying up there could shine a light bright enough to read by. Guide them, but wherever you can, let them talk and try to come up with their own solutions. You are the safest place in the world for them to experiment and try new things. Problem-solving is a wonderful skill to have, and their time talking to you, and coming up with ideas, will build it beautifully. Give them the opportunity to explore and wander around their own great potential.

  20. Try, ‘how’, not ‘why’.

    When things go wrong – as they will – asking kids ‘why’ will often end in ‘don’t know’. Who knows why any of us do silly things or make decisions that aren’t great ones. The only certainty is that we all do them. Rather than, ‘why did you paint your sister’s face?’ which might lead to the perfectly reasonable explanation of, ‘to make it yellow’, encourage problem-solving and reflection by asking how they can put it right. ‘She’s yellow but it’s not okay for her to stay yellow. How can you fix this?’ 

And above all else …

Let them know they are loved unconditionally. (But you already knew that.)

This will give them a solid foundation to come back to when the world starts to feel wobbly. Eventually, they will learn that they can give that solid foundation to themselves. A big part of resilience is building their belief in themselves. It’s the best thing they’ll ever believe in. 


Tamara D

What a great article. I have 2 kids between ages 7 to 11 and some of these tips I have already started using. Developing a growth mindset is important and so is support and at-least being there even in spirit is important


I was suggested this website by way of my cousin. I am not positive whether this submit is written via him as nobody else recognise such distinctive approximately my
difficulty. You are incredible! Thanks!

Thomas K

Very good article. Much to learn, as I work with children and young persons who have experienced various kinds of hardships in life.


Easily read article with lots if sound advice, thank you! Looking forward to more good articles as I’ve subscribed to you based on this one!


This article is directed toward how to teach resilience to children. I am an adult who is struggling with low resilience. Because of the circumstances of my childhood, I never learned to take risks and some of my key relationships were unhealthy. I am now dealing with high levels of anxiety and feel unable to connect with others in a meaningful way. Do you have any articles for adults to learn resilience if they missed out on this as a child? What happens once the brain is hardwired to not feel safe?

Karen Young

Sarah if you tend towards anxiety, this can understandably hold you back from taking risks. What you need to know is that this is something that can be managed. We all have the capacity to change our brain. First of all, it’s important to understand what happens in your brain and body during anxiety. Anxiety is a very normal human response from a brain that’s a little overprotective. Here is an article that will explain how that works The key is to take charge of this response again. Anxiety can feel frightening and can hold us all back from being brave or taking risks, but it’ss a warning, not a prediction. Here is an article with strategies that can help Exercise and mindfulness are powerful ways to strengthen an anxious brain. You will find plenty of information and strategies on this link Be patient and be kind to yourself. If this is something that has been with you for a while, it might take a little while to turn it around, but for certain it can be done.


This is so important for everyone. Not only for children but also for teenagers and adults. I’m working with internationals and they need to be even more resilient as they face more changes and are exposed to many unforeseen challenges. Not as many as refugees, of course, but still.
I will quote your article in my workshops and trainings. Thanks a lot!


The article is so informative and it’s what every parents should read to facilitate resilency in children.


Just out of curiosity, what primary/scholarly source or sources did you take this information from?


Hi! Regarding two points, social support/modeling healthy social behavior and not rushing to their rescue, from the wonderful list of suggestions; How does one model healthy social behavior and build social support if one is a bit awkward socially? Social interactions are exhausting and I try to put on a brave face, but am I causing harm by forcing the issue? I guess I could just focus on the other suggestions that don’t require socializing. How will I know when to step in or not step in to help with challenges? This is my biggest challenge as I want to solve the problems and eliminate the disappointment. What should I be asking myself when my child comes upon a difficult situation? I appreciate this article so much, because it gives me more tools to help me help my teenager.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Healthy social behaviour isn’t necessarily with people you feel unfamiliar with. It can be with family, the person who takes makes your coffee, close friends. It’s about responding to people in a healthy way – with kindness, grace, respect etc – not necessarily about being chatty or the life of the party. If it doesn’t feel comfortable, that’s completely okay. There are so many ways for us to help build resilience in our kids – modelling healthy social behaviour is just one of them.

When your child comes across something difficult, acknowledge the difficulty and the effort your child is putting into it. The clue is to give your child the support they need to get through, not necessarily the support they want. If it’s something they can do themselves, give them the opportunity to do that. The thing to remember is that the way kids learn how to deal with challenges is by actually dealing with challenges. That’s not always easy – it can be so hard watching our kids deal with the tough stuff! It’s important though. Resilience is sometimes that strengthens with experience.

Doing Good Together™

This is a great topic (and one we addressed too, in our “Embracing Failure” newsletter), and your tips are absolutely spot on! We’d like to offer our nonprofit as a suggestion for many of the tips. Becoming more socially aware can take place via family volunteering and small acts of service, and we have options and opportunities on our website. We also encourage mindfulness, intentional reading, and big-hearted conversations. Kindly visit our website for these tools and more!


I love this article..can’t help thinking it would also help some adults i certain circumstances also


The importance of family history in the development of self-esteem and resiliency.

“I spent 10 years studying this question how do we build resilience, going beyond just sort of being and hoping that nothing happens, to making our selves capable of absorbing the kinds of things that can happen in this world, both as adults, and as children, and as family’s. And the answer, which is a very long talk, but if I only have a few minutes I can tell you the answer is, and you would not imagine that this would be the case, the answer is establishing yourself as a trans-generational person. That is learning about the history of your family.
Learning about the history of your family and where you fit in to the context of this family, which has, when you learn the stories of the family, a oscillating history. If you ask your family, you will find that they have had good times and bad times intergenerationally. Your grandparents may have had a rough times, your parents may have had, but the history of an oscillating family is one in which good things happen and bad things happen. But the lesson from the oscillating family history is that, although bad things happen, we come back from them. And when we hear the stories of our family, we also learn about heroes in our family, which give us reason to believe that we are special, and we are capable, and we’re competent, and we survive. And that’s adaptational health or, adaptational wellness.
This takes work. So you need to see that as something you have to do, just like exercise.” ~Marshall P. Duke, Ph.D.


Thanks for the high quality articles. I have read a few of them and have now subscribed. As both a mom and a Social Worker, I look for current evidence to apply to my practice and my parenting. These suggestions will go into my tool kit!

Bobby Tanner

Let children know that it’s ok to fail or make a mistake.
Let them know that everyone who is trying to accomplish a task makes a mistake at some time or other in his or her life. If they understand this, they will be more willing to pursue any task at hand.

Bobby Tanner

Let children know that some stress is fine, but also help them deal with their stress in a responsible manner. They should never feel to overwhelmed to function in everyday life. Let them know that everyone has stress and each person deals with it in their own manner.

As He Grows Up

One way for parents to teach resilience to their kids is by gearing them up in such a way that they will be equipped with the skills that could handle the unexpected. Sure, our culture has taught us about making sure our children are comfortable but it doesn’t have to be that way all the time.

This is not going to be a way of suggesting that a child must be put through the same pain that his parents went through like what symbiotic parents are doing to their children. The point is to get the kids taught in handling uncertainty and as a problem-solver.

Problem solving is a fact of life. We do it every day, and everywhere. When a parent teaches his child how to solve problems, he’s teaching him how to live. After all, life is all about solving problems.

Parents must engage their kids in figuring out how they could handle challenges. Start it from simple tasks, then to hard, and hardest. They must be given the opportunity, time and again, to figure out what works from what does not.

Jonathan Anstock

Some great content in this article Hey Sigmund. Thank you. When I read articles about children, I always ask what age is being spoken about. Often statements (by researchers, educrats or politicians) are blanket, and backed up by, “Evidence shows this or that. …..” The researchers, politicians and educrats in Australia are wonderful at this. But a five year old is not a seven year old and a seven year old is not a nine year old. My main interest is in the child up until the ninth year (ie 8 years of age), when significant shifts in psychological development take place. Ah those tooth fairy years. Magic!

Hey Sigmund

Thanks Jonathan! Yes you’re absolutely right – kids differ vastly in terms of what works and what doesn’t – even kids who are the same age. Parents are the experts when it comes to what their own kids will respond to, which is why it’s often best to have a ‘toolbox’ rather than a ‘prescription’. I never stop being surprised by what kids can understand and take on board. They’re pretty wonderful like that!


Hi Karen,
Thank you very much for the fantastic article! Had a query on point# 12. Encourage them to take safe, considered risks.
What would be the best way to gauge the limits of this safety to maximize the learning?

Hey Sigmund

Great question. There’s no definitive answer as it what is safe will be different for every child. Gauge what is safe by using your knowledge of the individual child – what they are capable of physically, emotionally, mentally, then encourage them to move just past the point at which they start to feel their limits. Combine this with your ability to see around the corners they can’t in terms of their safety. So, depending on what they are into, a safe risk might be taking the shot at goal, taking part in a performance, trying a new activity, going to a party, welcoming the new kid. It’s about knowing where their edges are and encouraging them gently beyond.


I really enjoyed the article so thanks, but disagree with you on this one. If something is experienced by someone as a risk it is unlikely to feel safe. Children need to learn skills in assessing their skills against the risk and we need to be by their side to support – and intervene only if absolutely necessary.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Thanks Bradley. I’m pleased you enjoyed the article. The key point here is that it’s always important to encourage brave behaviour, otherwise kids will believe that the only way to feel safe is when everything is the way it has always been or the way they need it to be. The fallout from this way of being is rigidity in life and in relationships, which can cause all sorts of trouble later on. Risk doesn’t have to involve unsafe situations. It can involve trying a different food, doing something a different way – all the while being supported by someone they feel safe with. The very important lesson is that even when things feel ‘risky’, sometimes it’s good to be brave. Of course there will always be risky situations that feel bad, and that we would probably prefer our kids not to do (such as skateboarding down a busy street). Problems come with inflexibility either way – when there is overcalculation of risk and no brave behaviour; or not enough calculation of risk and too much risky behaviour. As the adults in their lives who care about them, our role is to gently guide them to know the difference.


Agreed Karen – it is often about helping them discern between risk (climbing a tree) and danger (climbing a tree that has concrete underneath it). It’s hard, because as Bradley points out so much of it comes down to recognising internal sensations of ‘feeling safe’ as well as the external environment. I often wonder if the lack of opportunities to take risk in early childhood leads to some of the more dangerous risk-taking in adolescence – a lack of skills in knowing how to assess risk?

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Great point Alice. One of the problems with not givng kids the opportunities to take safe risks when they are younger is that they also don’t get the opportunity to learn to trust their judgement, or their intuition around safe and unsafe risks. During adolescence something else happens that drives risky behaviour. The adolescent brain undergoes massive changes. During this time, the risky, impulsive, instinctive part of the brain develops and strengthens before the part of the brain that is able to consider consequences, plan, and slow impulsive behaviour.

Although adolescents are very capable of thinking about consequences, the changes in their brains means that they are more likely to place more importance on the potential benefits of an action, and minimise the potential risks. In many ways, this is an important part of development – we want our adolescents to take safe risks because this is how they learn to extend into the world, explore their potential, and establish their independence. The wonderful potential in this can also have disastrous consequences. Their capacity for greatness during this stage, driven by their creativity and their drive to experiment with the world and their place in it, can also see them taking some risks that can be potentially dangerous or in some instances, catastrophic. It’s why keeping the connection with our teens is so critical. The drive towards risk is a part of adolescent development, and as clever or as considered as they might be, the potential for risky behaviour is there in all of them. We just have to hope that some of what we say or the lessons they learned as they were growing up will stick, but inevitably they will make mistakes (as will we!). It’s why adolescence is an adventure for everyone.

Olympia M

I would agree with that comment too. My approach to teaching my kids how to deal with risks, was firstly to help them identify these, teach them strategies to evaluate these, decide on action and then trust their instincts. I think its key that kids learn to back themselves in a considered manner and learn to face challenges head on while learning from mistakes with a growth mind set.


This is so true,especially since as a teacher the children were my life, as I had none of my own.
Teaching,especially welfare, was my life, and when I became medically retired for a second time – hence the nursing home, I totally crashed.
I chose Whitney Houston’s : ” I believe the children are our future……” for my year 12 farewell song.


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When you can’t cut out (their worries), add in (what they need for felt safety). 

Rather than focusing on what we need them to do, shift the focus to what we can do. Make the environment as safe as we can (add in another safe adult), and have so much certainty that they can do this, they can borrow what they need and wrap it around themselves again and again and again.

You already do this when they have to do things that don’t want to do, but which you know are important - brushing their teeth, going to the dentist, not eating ice cream for dinner (too often). The key for living bravely is to also recognise that so many of the things that drive anxiety are equally important. 

We also need to ask, as their important adults - ‘Is this scary safe or scary dangerous?’ ‘Do I move them forward into this or protect them from it?’♥️
The need to feel connected to, and seen by our people is instinctive. 

THE FIX: Add in micro-connections to let them feel you seeing them, loving them, connecting with them, enjoying them:

‘I love being your mum.’
‘I love being your dad.’
‘I missed you today.’
‘I can’t wait to hang out with you at bedtime 
and read a story together.’

Or smiling at them, playing with them, 
sharing something funny, noticing something about them, ‘remembering when...’ with them.

And our adult loves need the same, as we need the same from them.♥️
Our kids need the same thing we do: to feel safe and loved through all feelings not just the convenient ones.

Gosh it’s hard though. I’ve never lost my (thinking) mind as much at anyone as I have with the people I love most in this world.

We’re human, not bricks, and even though we’re parents we still feel it big sometimes. Sometimes these feelings make it hard for us to be the people we want to be for our loves.

That’s the truth of it, and that’s the duality of being a parent. We love and we fury. We want to connect and we want to pull away. We hold it all together and sometimes we can’t.

None of this is about perfection. It’s about being human, and the best humans feel, argue, fight, reconnect, own our ‘stuff’. We keep working on growing and being more of our everythingness, just in kinder ways.

If we get it wrong, which we will, that’s okay. What’s important is the repair - as soon as we can and not selling it as their fault. Our reaction is our responsibility, not theirs. This might sound like, ‘I’m really sorry I yelled. You didn’t deserve that. I really want to hear what you have to say. Can we try again?’

Of course, none of this means ‘no boundaries’. What it means is adding warmth to the boundary. One without the other will feel unsafe - for them, us, and others.

This means making sure that we’ve claimed responsibility- the ability to respond to what’s happening. It doesn’t mean blame. It means recognising that when a young person is feeling big, they don’t have the resources to lead out of the turmoil, so we have to lead them out - not push them out.

Rather than focusing on what we want them to do, shift the focus to what we can do to bring felt safety and calm back into the space.

THEN when they’re calm talk about what’s happened, the repair, and what to do next time.

Discipline means ‘to teach’, not to punish. They will learn best when they are connected to you. Maybe there is a need for consequences, but these must be about repair and restoration. Punishment is pointless, harmful, and outdated.

Hold the boundary, add warmth. Don’t ask them to do WHEN they can’t do. Wait until they can hear you and work on what’s needed. There’s no hurry.♥️
Recently I chatted with @rebeccasparrow72 , host of ABC Listen’s brilliant podcast, ‘Parental as Anything: Teens’. I loved this chat. Bec asked all the questions that let us crack the topic right open. Our conversation was in response to a listener’s question, that I expect will be familiar to many parents in many homes. Have a listen here:
School refusal is escalating. Something that’s troubling me is the use of the word ‘school can’t’ when talking about kids.

Stay with me.

First, let’s be clear: school refusal isn’t about won’t. It’s about can’t. Not truly can’t but felt can’t. It’s about anxiety making school feel so unsafe for a child, avoidance feels like the only option.

Here’s the problem. Language is powerful, and when we put ‘can’t’ onto a child, it tells a deficiency story about the child.

But school refusal isn’t about the child.
It’s about the environment not feeling safe enough right now, or separation from a parent not feeling safe enough right now. The ‘can’t’ isn’t about the child. It’s about an environment that can’t support the need for felt safety - yet.

This can happen in even the most loving, supportive schools. All schools are full of anxiety triggers. They need to be because anything new, hard, brave, growthful will always come with potential threats - maybe failure, judgement, shame. Even if these are so unlikely, the brain won’t care. All it will read is ‘danger’.

Of course sometimes school actually isn’t safe. Maybe peer relationships are tricky. Maybe teachers are shouty and still using outdated ways to manage behaviour. Maybe sensory needs aren’t met.

Most of the time though it’s not actual threat but ’felt threat’.

The deficiency isn’t with the child. It’s with the environment. The question isn’t how do we get rid of their anxiety. It’s how do we make the environment feel safe enough so they can feel supported enough to handle the discomfort of their anxiety.

We can throw all the resources we want at the child, but:

- if the parent doesn’t believe the child is safe enough, cared for enough, capable enough; or

- if school can’t provide enough felt safety for the child (sensory accommodations, safe peer relationships, at least one predictable adult the child feels safe with and cared for by),

that child will not feel safe enough.

To help kids feel safe and happy at school, we have to recognise that it’s the environment that needs changing, not the child. This doesn’t mean the environment is wrong. It’s about making it feel more right for this child.♥️

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