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The Paradox of Toughening Up

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

Written by Brighde Campbell


It’s a really common question asked here at Playful Possibilities about how to teach kids to ‘toughen up’ and ‘be a bit more resilient’ so that they can survive the knocks that life inevitably delivers.


It’s a reasonable thing to ask as a protective and caring parent wanting to find ways to reduce the stresses of life.


The answer is….that resilience and being tough are actually two completely different things. The first pretends to look like the second and does a good job of convincing us that it means the same thing. Ideas of being immune to life’s challenges can be very appealing to all of us if, unfortunately, very unrealistic.

As Dr Nicole Carver explains in her blog on heysigmund.com, trying to toughen children against the world doesn’t result in resilience, paradoxically, it undermines it.


Being resilient is about being able to handle what comes at you. This includes things like problems, challenges, other people’s needs, wants and demands, school, relationships, illnesses and injuries, change, disappointments, all of how you feel about life and sometimes…..just having a bad day and not wanting to get out of bed. This all takes patience, skill and a support team.


To navigate all of those things we need flexibility, adaptability and a strong team on our side who can help us when we get stuck and remind us that we are still valuable no matter what. Sometimes we need to take a tough stance against a problem and be strong and this can be the right thing to do. But it’s only one response out of a range of things that we need in our toolkit to thrive in life.


Being resilient means knowing how we feel and how to handle emotions (especially the ones that we don’t like), asking for and getting help when we need it and being able to make mistakes, dust ourselves off and get up again.

Teaching kids how to be resilient starts with relationship - spending time together, talking about the ups and downs and how to manage them, talking about emotions and how to manage them and being in it together when things are tough.


This creates confidence and safety and when we’re safe we can step into the world bravely with resilience to tackle its challenges knowing that if we fall, we have people around who can help us back up again or give us the confidence to pick ourselves up.

If you would like to explore this more with us, we’re planning some sessions here at Playful Possibilities to explore this a bit more and to help build some extra skills. Let us know if you'd like to know more by dropping us a line and we’ll share more news as it breaks.

You can also check out What Really Builds Resilience in Kids? (It’s Not What You Think) by Dr Nicole Carvill - Hey Sigmund for a more detailed article on resilience building.


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