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How often have you watched your child give up on something? Or mutter the phrase, “I can’t do it!”? Or break down in tears due to frustration and fear of failure? It’s a hard thing to experience when you’re a parent. But it’s also a completely normal reaction for a child.

All children feel vulnerable from time to time. They feel as though they are not good enough, as though they can’t do it, as though there is no point in even trying if they aren’t going to get it right away or be the best at it.

Our natural instinct is to protect them and to eliminate all risks so they don’t have to struggle or think this way. But often when we do this, we are not giving them the chance to try, to take on a new challenge and to build resilience.

It is one of our many jobs as parents to help our children build the confidence and strength to tackle all tasks, even the tricky ones. So how can we teach them to persevere even when it’s hard, to challenge themselves even when they aren’t the best, and to remain resilient even when faced with a tough situation?



1. Mind over matter – adopt a growth mindset

We all know how powerful our minds can be. When we think we can, we are more than halfway there. This is what a growth mindset is all about: teaching our brains to think positively in order to overcome obstacles. According to MacKillop Catholic College Principal, Luke Reed, children experience both a fixed and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset, according to Principal Reed, is characterised by static learning. Avoiding challenges, giving up easily, ignoring useful criticism, seeing others’ success as threatening – these are all classic examples of a fixed mindset.

Most children will display these characteristics once in a while, especially as they grow older and face harder obstacles. But our goal is to help them transfer to a growth mindset. A growth mindset focuses on developing as we go and on using our errors as learning tools rather than failures. Growth learners are “learners who will try anything, take risks with their learning, not be afraid of mistakes and are inspired to take on learning challenges,” Luke explains. Once a child is in a growth mindset, they become more capable of thinking positively, embracing challenges and becoming resilient to any negativity that could hinder their growth.

To help your child develop a growth mindset you can try the following:

  • Use growth mindset praise
    “Give praise for taking initiative, seeing a difficult task through, struggling and learning something new, being resilient, or being open to and acting on feedback,” Principal Reed suggests. “Do not attribute their success to ‘being smart’ or ‘being the best’. Instead focus on hard work and perseverance.”
  • Model flexibility and positivity
    In times of hardship or change, adopt a ‘glass half full’ approach. “Model a positive attitude when faced with hardship or a change,” Principal Reed explains. Yes, things didn’t go to plan, but what can we learn from this? How can we use it to grow?
  • Ask the right questions
    The language that we use plays a big role in building a growth mindset. The next time you sit down to chat to your children, try asking them some of these questions:
  1. What did you do today that made you think hard?
  2. What happened today that made you keep going?
  3. What can you learn from this?
  4. What mistake taught you something?
  5. What is another strategy you can use?
  6. What did you try hard at today?
  7. What will you do to challenge yourself today?
  8. What will you do to improve your work?
  9. What will you do to improve your talent?
  10. What will you do to solve this problem?

2. Help them cope with emotions and obstacles

Setbacks are an inevitable part of life, from the minor to the seemingly insurmountable. For kids, this can include taking tests, fitting in with their peers, dealing with bullies, changing schools and competing in sports events. All scary things for a child! And all bound to leave your child overwhelmed with emotion. According to Michael Oates, School Counsellor and Psychologist, “To feel sad, overwhelmed, angry or inadequate at times is normal and often an appropriate response to life’s experiences. Feeling these does not make you any less.” The key is to learn how to gain control of these emotions. Oates identifies:

Three key coping mechanisms that we can teach our children when faced with a challenge:

  • Acceptance: Talk to your children about how they are feeling, whether frustrated, angry or anxious. “Acceptance of how you are feeling helps you process and move past it,” Oates explains.
  • Connection: “Feeling connected is also a vital part of coping – to feel that someone understands and cares for us can stop us from going down as deep and helps us to get out quicker.” Be that connection for your child.
  • Self-reflection: A child can often be his own worst enemy. “Sometimes we have a hand in creating our negative feelings and this goes for kids too.” Looking for the positive in things can help us overcome this negativity. “An honest dialogue with ourselves helps us to understand how we got here, and to avoid repeating mistakes in the future,” Oates explains.

3. Teach them to problem solve

No matter what age and stage our children are at, they are always going to be faced with problems. The problems will vary but the way they handle the problem remains very similar. This is why it’s so important to teach our kids to problem solve early on. That way, no matter what they are faced with, they have the tools to tackle it.

Here is an easy three-step approach to helping your child learn how to problem solve:

  1. Identify the problem. Find a quiet area to discuss what’s bothering your child. Listen to them and avoid the urge to jump in and explain what they are doing wrong.
  2. Brainstorm solutions. Come up with two or three different solutions with your child to help fix the problem. Any more can be overwhelming.
  3. Let them try and check in. Let your child try the solution himself and check in with them as soon as possible. Did it work? If not, why not? What can they try next?
  4. Take a step back (but not too far)

We all want the very best for our kids. But often we get stuck trying to protect them by swaddling them in bubble wrap and not letting them face challenges on their own. Eliminating all risks only sets children up for failure down the road. After all, eventually we have to kiss them goodbye and let them try things on their own (even if we don’t want to).

Rather than taking over, stand by, support them. 

Let’s say your child has an exam coming up and she’s  nervous about it. She’s in tears; she feels sick; she’s not ready; she doesn’t want to go to school. The protector in us is probably thinking, “It’s okay, don’t go. Skip this one test. It’s not the end of the world.” But a better approach in this situation is to brainstorm ways to manage these fears. Make a study chart to follow, help her make flashcards to prepare and talk these fears through to help her overcome them. Get her to come up with solutions to help her overcome these anxieties rather than taking over and eliminating the problem completely. 

Another example – let’s say your child has a book report due tomorrow which he conveniently “forgot” about. Rather than stay up late doing it for him (or editing it to make sure it passes), encourage him to do what he can in the time given. If he doesn’t get it done or gets a poor grade, then this is a lesson he can learn from. Children need to make mistakes. Yes, it can be painful for parents to watch but it helps children learn how to make better decisions next time.

5. Finally, be a resilient role model

Of course, kids learn from watching you, so practise what you preach! Consider the above tips for yourself when faced with an obstacle and try to adapt a growth mindset when faced with tricky situations.

Michael Oates is a Psychologist/School Counsellor at Cairns Catholic Education

Luke Reed is the Principal at MacKillop Catholic College, Mount Peter