8 ways to build emotional resilience in our special children


Emotional resilience is the new buzz phrase. In laymen speak it is the ability to cope emotionally with unexpected situations.

I have often wondered why some adults fail to cope with horrific situations whilst others use it to benefit their lives? We all know of the survivors of abuse and tragedy who have turned the disaster into a positive. How do they do that? I think they must have such a deep belief of self-worth that they are determined to make a go of their lives.

It is this feeling of coping that we must instil into our special children.

Everyday life will be full of shitty problems, difficulties and dramas. So how do we set up our children to be able to manage and thrive?

We want our children to be calm and confident – not stressed and anxious. We want our children to have a fabulous feeling of self-worth and to be able to build solid relationships. Our hope is for them to be useful members of society.

So how on earth do we do this?

I suggest 8 ways to build emotional resilience in our beautiful ADHD children:


We want our children to have the ability to see the world through another person’s eyes.

So, we must first of all be a good role model and show how you can understand how others are feeling. We must show that we can take account of another person’s point of view. It’s okay to express a different opinion so encourage your child to debate and argue politely and to listen to another person’s opinion.

Praise your child when they show empathy – being kind when a sibling is hurt, letting his sister go first, helping out when you’re feeling tired. By acknowledging these times, you are letting your child know that this is great behaviour and he is more likely to repeat it. (Of course some of you are thinking if my son ever offered to help it would be a bloomin miracle – but we can live in hope…)

2.Give responsibility

If you give your child opportunities to do useful things, there should be tons of praise heaped on him. So, you need to orchestrate these moments by giving him little jobs or chores to do. Empty the waste bin, bring in the shopping, pop into the shop and buy some milk. Not only does it give him a sense of being valuable, but also makes him feel in control of his actions and choices.

Make sure you set realistic goals so that he achieves. And keep the praise realistic and non-patronising – don’t go overboard that he’s picked up his toys. “You are the most amazing child in the history of the world for wiping the table”. Seriously wrong. A smile or a hug will do.

3.Build confidence

And talking of praise, reward him for exhibiting good moral qualities such as kindness, fairness and integrity. Academically he may be struggling, so be explicit to him that these are not the tools that will get him through life. A Grade A may feel good at the time – but being kind will last forever and make him a wonderful human being. Be careful of praising siblings in front of him if they get Grade As. Total no no.

Encourage your child to build on his natural strengths and talents. If he loves sports or arts then explore all the clubs and groups that he could join that will make him feel good about himself. Choose wisely. There are some places that are so competitive you risk the joy being taken out of the activity. Find an activity where he can soar.

Ensure your child doesn’t take on more than he can handle. He may set himself up to fail. It’s brilliant to want to play the drums for his own pleasure, but if he has the pressure of graded exams you’ll kill the enthusiasm.


As far as you can and are able, create a safe loving home life. If a child hears rows and recriminations, then he is more likely to grow up with a negative attitude. Our small children want the security of knowing the adults are okay and are making good decisions. It is important to role model loving relationships – what better way to learn than to imitate those closest to you.

That is not to say that there cannot be gentle conflict within a home. It is healthy to argue, express opinions, to disagree and should be actively encouraged. You want it to be alright to openly express emotions and not suppress negative emotions such as anger and resentment. It’s good to talk.

Put aside time to spend together to do fun things; build a mud pie, make a den out of a cardboard box, perform a play in silly hats. It is during these safe, fun times that you’ll create opportunities to talk.

5.Teach problem-solving skills

It is absolutely okay to fail. Everyone makes mistakes – that’s how we learn. Work out what happened, where he went wrong and make changes. Articulate how to solve a problem and again show that adults make mistakes too but don’t get anxious about it. Smile and move on. Car’s broken down, run out of toilet paper – all little dramas that can be solved by clear thinking.

There will be occasions when socially things don’t go well. How common is it to fall out with a friend and feel rejected? Before you steam in and take sides, find out exactly what occurred and help to resolve the issue. He will be looking how you resolve problems and whether you’re taking a measured approach. It’s so tempting to scream and shout and show you’re disappointed but in the long-term this won’t help your child become resilient.

6.Rules and consequences

Decide on these together so they seem fair. If your child feels that you are just imposing adult rules on him, he’ll reject them and you’ll just have another battle on your hands. Let him feel in control and then heap on the praise. Be totally consistent and don’t deviate – little ones have a fabulous knack of finding the chink in the armour!

Reinforce a sense of ownership and self-discipline by allowing him to decide these rules and consequences. He’ll be more likely to stick to them. Your child will live up – or down – to your expectations.

7.Risk taking

Life is full of unknowns so you need to prepare your child for what to do when things don’t go as planned. Show that it doesn’t matter if it rains when you planned a picnic because you can have the food indoors. Or if you’ve missed the train you can just go for a hot chocolate whilst you wait for the next one. Win win.

Be spontaneous and try eating a food you’ve never tried before. Walk a different route home and notice the different sights.

Risks are okay if they’re measured and that he sees how you cope when things don’t go as planned.

8.Sense of belonging

A child with an established emotional resilience, has a great sense of belonging. This can be within the family, close friends or community. We all like to feel part of a group or team and that we can contribute and our presence matters. So, find a group for your child that he can feel comfortable, achieve and he feels accepted. Research groups that actively encourage children with special needs or who have experienced staff that will accept him. Build up his sense of pride and working as part of a team.

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