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Friday 8 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
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Parenting 'I've realised that to raise resilient kids I need to practice what I preach'

Margaret Lynch looked at the tricks for building resilience in her children and found that communication is key.

SEPTEMBER SIGNIFIES THE next step in our children’s lives, and another step further away from us.

Feelings of sadness, heartache, devastating tiredness and extreme financial ruin can all be expected. It’s all so uncertain, as we send them out into the unknown to begin their own little journey through life. We spend weeks preparing as much as we can for the first days of school.

Every minute of the morning has been strategically planned out. Everyone must be out of bed by 7 am and the toothpaste and toast have to happen before the uniform goes on.

The windowsill strains under the weight of an assortment of multivitamins to rival a Boots counter, and yet it still doesn’t feel like we have done enough to prepare them for what’s ahead. Because after the toast and the teeth and a dramatic row over not being able to swallow a multivitamin, they are going to set off on their own. They are going to leave us and go on to experience situations which will be theirs alone to handle.

It is a terrifying thought. Our hearts break a little as we think about them facing any kind of difficulty. My daughter started secondary last week and was horrified to find no one from her primary class in her new class.

My first reaction was to email the school to see if they could move her to another class. They couldn’t do anything and we had a very bumpy start to the new year. But now, a week later, she has settled into the new class and made friends.

In hindsight, I didn’t need to get involved. And while this was only a minor event in the grand scheme of things, she has internalised a very important message; she can survive in a room where she knows no one.


We can’t control what happens to them, as much as we might like to. All we can do is hope. We hope that they find their feet easily, that they find a friend or maybe even just a friendly face. We hope the dynamics of the friend groups haven’t shifted too much over Summer, and that their teacher likes them.

We hope they can get the lid off their yoghurt or peel an orange in under 15 minutes.

Despite all of our best efforts to ensure that everything goes well, it is impossible to guarantee a smooth transition, because, at the end of the day, we aren’t sending them out into a perfect world. And while we might spend time teaching our kids to be kind, there are far too many people out there with absolutely no intention of being kind to anyone.

They might sit beside someone who takes a dislike to them, or they might struggle to make friends. And while these situations are certainly tough, they also provide an opportunity for kids to develop important skills that they will need as adults.
They provide us with an opportunity to teach resilience.

motherpreparingherdaughterforfirstdayinschool Shutterstock / BalanceFormCreative Shutterstock / BalanceFormCreative / BalanceFormCreative

Resilience is a defence mechanism that we launch when we are faced with adversity or challenges. It is a muscle that we can strengthen with every use. So, with each setback, and every time something goes wrong, we are given an opportunity to develop that skill set further.

Things go wrong all the time, and teaching our kids how to cope with this is key to them being able to deal with bigger problems later in life.

Moving house, facing eviction, experiencing a parent losing a job, cyberbullying, these are all problems that can seem utterly overwhelming to a developing brain. In our house, being asked to unload the dishwasher can be an unsurmountable event. Building their resilience can help them navigate these stressful situations. And I know, when they come home sad or upset, our reaction is usually to jump in and fix the problem. But this can actually weaken their resilience. When kids have the skills and the confidence to confront and work through their problems, they learn that they have what it takes to confront difficult issues. The more they solve these problems on their own, the more they internalise the message that they are strong and capable and that they can weather any storm. Because let’s face it, there is a stormy path ahead for all of us.

So how do we build resilience?

We can teach our kids that despite the best-laid plans, things often don’t work out how we had hoped. At some point, they will work a job that they hate, and they will have relationships that end. Not everyone is going to like them, and that’s ok.

The younger they are experiencing rejection, the easier it is for them to experience as an adult.

Our goal, as parents, is to provide a safe base from which they can make mistakes. Instead of throwing them in the deep end of a pool to sink or swim, we are building a solid bedrock of support around them, to cushion them as they learn to swim. This bedrock of support is made up of the problem-solving skills we teach them, their own self-esteem and also their relationship with you.

The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is having at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver or other adult. This is because when kids know they have the unconditional support of a parent, family member, or even a teacher, they feel empowered to seek guidance and make attempts to work through difficult situations.

When your child comes to you with a problem, we can talk it through with them, ask questions and offer them the opportunity to come up with a solution themselves. By bouncing the problem around, the child will often come up with their own solutions. The most important thing about problem-solving is that your child learns how to do it independently.

sadpupilbeingbulliedbyclassmatesatcorridorinschool Shutterstock / wavebreakmedia Shutterstock / wavebreakmedia / wavebreakmedia

We can also invest in their self-esteem – having a strong sense of self can help kids face adversity at any stage in their lives. Encourage them to get to know who they are, and what values they hold. Give them opportunities to master specific skills or competencies. The sense of achievement they feel from successfully completing a challenge will convince them that they have the ability to meet new, harder challenges.


I know how hard it is to give time and energy to absolutely everything these days. Parenting in the modern world is all-consuming, but so is working and cleaning and paying bills. It’s tough to find time to really sit quietly with your kids and chat everything out. Encouraging them to set personal goals and challenges for the remainder of the year can be a big help in strengthening them for the days ahead. It can help them to focus on what’s important to them and give them a broader perspective on life.

Although the school years can feel overwhelming when we are in them, they are just as fleeting as everything else.

Finally, we can model coping and problem-solving skills for them ourselves. Yes, that is so challenging when you feel like a hamster on a wheel yourself and this means not falling apart at the slightest inconvenience. It can also mean being open about our own struggles and how we overcame them.

happypositivedadandlittlesonanddaughterkidsin Shutterstock / fizkes Shutterstock / fizkes / fizkes

Sharing details from your own day over dinner can be hugely instrumental in providing a framework for them to work with. Starting a new job, or resolving an issue with a colleague are valuable insights for them. These are opportunities for us to show our children that we can handle problems. That we are a safe place for them to bring their issues.

While the brain and other biological systems are most adaptable early in life, it is never too late to build resilience or to improve your own. You can change the relationship you have with yourself, starting with your internal narrative. Making mistakes at a young age can be one of life’s best lessons, and teaching kids that making mistakes isn’t the end of the world is a big help. Mistakes are a crucial part of growth and embracing a sense of self compassion is a gift to yourself. Silencing your inner critic and modelling kindness to yourself and others sets a standard for how they will speak to themselves, and those around them. A resilient parent will create resilience in a child and ensure that we all have the tools to handle whatever lies ahead.

Margaret Lynch is a busy, working mum of two, living in Kildare and wondering if Adulthood is really for her.