How to develop resilience in children

2 May 2022



How to develop resilience in children is a complicated subject matter evidenced by the 120 or so definitions of the term resilience. The good news is, there are opportunities in everyday life that you can use to develop resilience in children and yourself.

Engaging with the Warrior and Ethos cardinals of your compass in equal measure is the key to success in developing resilience. In this blog we look at 6 specific actions linked to your Compass that you can take to build resilience in children and yourself.

What is resilience?

resilience in children

There are 3 key areas of resilience according to the science of Positive Psychology:

Recovery – This is what most people focus on when they think of the term ‘resilience’. Otherwise known as, our ability to bounce back. This is a very important aspect, but it is not the only important aspect of resilience. To be able to recover, we need the right tools to ‘bounce back’, which suggests some work will be needed before we need to ‘bounce back’

Reconfiguration – A vital part of being able to ‘bounce back’ is our ability to adapt to our surroundings. Insanity is roughly defined as ‘doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result’. Reconfiguration is a much more difficult aspect of resilience to embed as it requires more thought, energy, and time to foster. However, this aspect of resilience is as important as the ability to ‘bounce back’. The question we should always ask ourselves is ‘bounce back to what? What do I want to bounce back to?’ Was the situation before an event something that I was happy with? Or do I need to make/create some changes?

Resistance – Resistance is the third and final part of developing resilience. It plays a vital role in the ability of a person to develop mental and physical resilience. This resistance is the part of the resilience model that has the largest and most sustainable impact in our lives (both personally and professionally). 

However, this element of resilience requires an even deeper look into our behaviours and our relationships. The phrase ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’ is the antithesis of this part of the model. The undertones of this statement tell us that we shouldn’t act until something happens. However, the science of Positive Psychology has a different view of this.

In fact, the more work we do on the resistance component of resilience, the more resilient we become. This is especially true for children.

Developing Resistance

hoe to develop resilience: gratitude

1.Exercise Gratitude (Warrior Cardinal)

Reflecting regularly on the good things in your life is an incredibly effective way to put your mind into a positive space, making it easier for you to bounce back from adversity. This is especially true for children.

A good way to do this is to do a gratitude exercise either at the dinner table, or at story time where you and your child identify three things you’re grateful for each day. You can keep track of these things by writing them in a family gratitude journal (this will also help you as a parent to develop your own resilience too!).

2. Random Acts of Kindness (Ethos Cardinal)

Part of developing resilience is the ability to experience positive emotions on a regular basis. One way to do this is by doing a random act of kindness once a day for someone you don’t know.

The challenge we offer you all is to do this whilst you’re out and about with your young ones to model to them how this can be good for the person you’re kind to. It helps you feel good as well! It’s great fun and can be transformational when practiced often.

Learning to Reconfigure

develop resilience in children: reconfigure emotions

1. Strategising

People do not spend enough of their time thinking about how they are going to progress and move forward in most areas of life. As such, when planning is a bit poor or neglected, it makes it very difficult to be able to adapt as you tend to spend most of your time ‘firefighting’. If this is you, you’re in good company. Most people struggle to plan their week, month, year, etc… Most of us live day-to-day, which is fine most of the time. However, to develop resilience in children, planning and strategising is key.

An activity you can do with your children is to spend some time either at the weekend or during dinner time talking about and organising the week ahead. As a result, many of the week’s decisions have already been taken giving you all more time and energy to spend when something unforeseen changes the plans. Then, it’s a case of reconfiguring, rather than strategising and making decisions in the spur of the moment. As such, the disappointment of the setback may not have as significant an impact, making the dip in functioning less deep than if the whole world came crashing down because of the unforeseen event.

2. Identify and Discuss Emotions

Unsurprisingly, the ability to reconfigure is largely rooted in our ability to engage with the emotions that accompany an adverse event. As such, it is vital as adults that we ask questions to our children such as ‘How does that make you feel?’ or ‘Can you tell me how this event has made you feel?’.

When we can identify and understand our emotions without judgement, it makes it easier to adapt to a situation, particularly difficult a situation. So, speak often about emotions so that it becomes a normal part of your conversations with your children. This will help develop resilience in children.



1. Family Values

Identifying 3 to 4 values that you and your family want to live by can make difficult situations easy to navigate conversationally.

For instance, when a child has been made fun of by other children, explore the situations through their feelings first, then through the lens of the common family values. It helps to explain complicated social matters to children, but also helps them to understand how to use the tools they have to help them move on quickly through from an adverse event. This is a key way to help develop resilience in children.

2. Strength Spotting

This is one of our favourite activities to use here at Compass for Life. Spending time each day identifying the strength of others, as well as the strengths of ourselves helps us to identify how and when we should use our strengths. By visiting this conversation on a regular basis, children will become more aware of their strengths as well as develop the self-belief that they do indeed have the identified strengths. As a result, they will be more able to identify the strengths they need to get through a situation and develop their resilience.

We have worked with several schools to help children and teachers understand what resilience is and how to develop it with resounding success. Developing resilience is a key component of all Compass for Life programmes because it helps those involved develop into stronger versions of themselves.

Check out the schools we’ve worked with and see what the pupils and teachers have to say about their journey on a Compass for Life programme.