5 ways to build resilience in children through activity and sport

This blog first appeared on Active Cubs website.

I’ll be honest I would not swap my childhood for those of my children. Ever.

They can keep their PlayStation, mobile phones, Pokémon Go, Snapchat and everything else and I’ll keep my dens, tree climbing, BMX and homemade go-kart (read death trap!). But crikey I wish they could have mine, death trap and all.

Why? Because I passionately believe our children are losing out on the valuable commodity of resilience that activity and sport builds. That’s why it’s fantastic to see sites like this trying to reverse the trend.

Here a just a few ways that us parents can help our children develop #resilience through activity and sport that will serve them through the rest of their lives.

Be a role model

Children are like wet cement, whatever falls on them makes an impression. I don’t remember my Dad every playing much in the way of games with me, but I do remember spending hours with him doing all sort of things. From learning how to fix pretty much anything from changing a light bulb to mending a car.

We also spent lots of time outside walking, gentle climbing. We camped, mowed lawns and as I got older he taught me squash and let me win just enough points to keep me interested.

It wasn’t just the skills I learnt during those times that was important, it was the million other insights, stories and pearls of wisdom I can’t directly remember now but that shaped my mind and attitude growing up. Just be there and do stuff. Find a way to get them interested and involved and the moments it will give you both will be priceless.

Encourage strong morals and values

Integrity is about doing the right thing even though no-one will know you did. Participating in activities and sports gives children and parents a multitude of opportunities to learn a strong set of morals and values than can provide them with a solid frame of reference for their decision making though life.

It gives parents the chance to talk to their children about right and wrong, with real life examples that you just can’t get when they are glued to their phones and Xboxes. Even watching sport together on TV or better yet at the ground can do that.

Allow them to fail

There’s nothing like failure to teach #resilience and whole host of other useful skills and mindset. My dens must have collapsed dozens of times until I learnt by trial and error and with the occasional tips from my Dad, on how to build one that lasted.

It was important part of my ‘life-schooling’ that taught me perseverance, patience, problem-solving and important team-working skills with my siblings and friends.

The millennial generation are suffering from a lack of failure and haven’t learnt that success takes time, effort and very often blood, sweat and tears. And that’s OK.

Parents can help their children by not helping their children. Let them fail, re-group and fail again. You won’t be around or able to help them forever, so equip them with the skills now. They will thank you for it later and you will thank yourself.

Try new things

I was lucky growing up. My Mum was insistent that I tried as many things as possible so that as I got older I could take part in something even if I wasn’t very good at it, because I knew I’d done it before.

“How do you know you don’t like it, if you’ve never tried it?”, she would say. “But I only want to play rugby!”, I would reply,

So, cue horse riding “that’s for girls!” and tennis “that’s for girls too!” and cooking…you can guess the response. However, went along I did and while I didn’t pursue them with the same passion and commitment I did for rugby, I did learn valuable skills and resilience.

The resilience that comes with being out of your comfort zone – especially when head-on into the teeth of driving wind and rain, on a bleak northern hillside, on a grumpy horse called Lucky, who refuses to move and being laughed at by a girl!

Was I thankful then? No. Am I now? Yes. Because now I can take my partner horse-riding then take her home and cook her a great meal. That buys me lots of brownie points.

Let them play for fun

We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing. – George Bernard Shaw

Roger Federer has just come out and warned against pushy parents and the importance of giving children the chance and space to develop without pressure.

You can read what he has to say here.

It can be hard as a parent not to get so passionate about your children’s successes that you get in the way. However, there’s nothing like creating a sense of expectation and pressure to perform in your child’s mind to cause stress and mental health issues.

Children, especially pre-teens are wired psychologically to seek approval – it’s how we survived when we lived in caves. It doesn’t take much for their minds to go in to overdrive causing stress and pressure about how they think you want them to behave or perform and their failings in meeting your expectations

Think about yourself and how easy it is for your mind to create ANTS – automatic negative thoughts  – when you’re under pressure

So just let them play and be aware of placing too much emphasis on the performance or outcome. Let them find their own level of commitment.

There’s a great video on this topic or watch it below.

So, to wrap up, if you are reading this then you are already doing a good job of helping build their resilience by getting them active. Just remember to encourage them, give them space to fail and try new things and most of all…. have fun!


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