How to help your child manage anxiety and build resilience

Father and son

Blanche Clark

Posted February 09, 2022

New research has revealed the importance of building resilience and other coping skills in children to help their mental wellbeing and success at school.

Mental health problems can affect a child’s education and wellbeing, but there are things parents can do to support their children from a young age.

New research, led by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), has highlighted the need for resilience and coping-skills training to help prevent increasing mental health disorders in children, which have been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 crisis.

MCRI Professor Harriet Hiscock says about 50 per cent of mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression, begin before the age of 14 years.

“Prevention and early intervention are paramount if we want to reduce lifetime prevalence of mental-health disorders and allow children to live their best possible lives,” she says.

Being a role model

Along with more training and resources for school staff, Hiscock says there are ways parents can help their children as well.

“We have a big role to play in supporting our kids,” she says. “One way is to model the things we want from our children. If we want empathy, we need to model empathy. 

“For example, next time you are in a traffic queue, and someone is annoying you, rather than mouthing off, maybe say, 'This is a bit frustrating, but the traffic will move, and we will get to where we need to get to.” 

Learning from failure

She says allowing children to experience failure helps build resilience and teaches them that the world doesn’t fall apart if they, say, hand their homework in late or they don’t get something right. 

“From an early stage, when we play games with kids, it’s about not always letting them win. That is how you start to build resilience.

 “As kids get a bit older, and they have problems, rather than rushing to their defence and saying, ‘That’s awful,’ try to brainstorm with them: 'What could you do differently next time?' That all starts to build their problem-solving skills and resilience.”

Father and daughter in car

Parents are role models for their children, even when they're driving. Image: Getty. 

Building resilence in children

The Australian parenting website, Raising Children Network, has extensive resources, including guides and toolkits, on topics such as family life, technology and school. Raising Children Network Director Derek McCormack says there are five areas that promote and build resilience in children, including self-empathy, praise and problem-solving.


Trying new things

Being able and willing to try new things helps build resilience. McCormack says parents can encourage children to try and master new skills, challenges and activities. “That builds up their sense of confidence and ability,” he says.

Encouraging self-compassion

Self-compassion and self-empathy are important for parents as well as children. “Talk to yourself the way you would talk to a valued friend,” McCormack says. “Give yourself a break. Remind yourself that it’s OK to feel the way you do and to maybe not achieve the thing you thought you would achieve.” Parents can model self-compassion and help their children do the same by not criticising themselves, acknowledging their shortcomings without negativity, and expressing gratitude.

Acknowleging your child's progress

It’s well known that praise helps build self-esteem, but it also builds resilience. “Praising what they do in small and big ways is another building block,” McCormack says. “It’s about letting your child know that you value what they are doing, not just their achievements, but them as a person.” 

Creating a positive family environment

Consider your family dynamics and how that affect your child. What positive rituals and routines do you have? Are things functioning well? How are the relationships between your child and others in the family? “Keeping an eye on what is happening around the child, both in the family and at school, is an important cornerstone, because resilience is built by valued relationship with adults and others,” McCormack says. 

Developing problem-solving skills

Teaching your child problem-solving skills involves taking the time to discuss the pros and cons of a problem or difficulty. “Even if your child is too young to do that analysis, a parent can model it for them,” McCormack says. “You can talk about a problem you’re having and say, ‘I could do this, and there are these consequences, or I could do this.’ You model it for them, and they can see it working, and then you can try it with them on a problem they might be facing, even if it’s a very small problem.” 


McCormack says these strategies help children deal with day-to-day issues and build resilience even when there is no aversity. 

“Children who are more resilient have good problem-solving skills and are good at learning new skills,” he says. “Over time they become more comfortable with those emotions that you might feel when you are anxious or stressed. They acknowledge the feelings, and know they are OK and that those feelings won’t last forever.” 


Mother and daughter

If you have concerns about your child's mental wellbeing, consult your GP or another trusted health professional. Image: Getty. 

Seeking help

McCormack says if parents are worried about their child, they should talk to their GP or another trusted health professional.

The Raising Children Network also has developed the Raising Healthy Minds app to help parents and carers support their child or children’s social and emotional wellbeing.


If you or someone you know feels overwhelmed or in need of support, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 at any time of the day or night.