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How to develop resilience

Kirstin McIlvaney, whose daughter, Erin, has biliary atresia, shares her tips on how to develop resilience in your child.

When Erin was first diagnosed with biliary atresia, it made me re-evaluate what I really wanted for her in life and I realised my dreams were very simple:

  • I wanted her to be alive
  • I wanted her to be happy

After a rocky first year and a lifesaving liver transplant when she was six months old, my first dream was holding up well thanks to the amazing staff at LGI and a hero organ donor.

So to dream number two – Erin will have to deal with a lot of medical management and there are no guarantees as to what her future will bring. How can we help her to cope with this and still be happy?

When a friend commented that we must be resilient to have all coped with the traumas of Erin’s first year, it got me thinking about resilience and how we could strengthen this in Erin.

A little googling and a parenting course gave me further insight.

Resilience is someone’s ability to ‘bounce back’ from what life throws at them. Children who are resilient will be able to flourish in life, despite difficult circumstances and be happier. They will also be less likely to develop emotional problems like depression or anxiety.

The good news is this that all children can become more resilient. I can’t protect Erin from the challenges that may come her way but I can help her become more able to cope with them.

Here are some of the things we are trying to help build resilience:

  • Honesty! Never lie about medical procedures. I’ll say ‘Yes this blood test will hurt, I know you don’t want to have it, I wish you didn’t need it too but it will be over very soon and it is important we know how your body is working’.
  • Control. Erin has her say on how bloods are taken. She chooses no cold spray, no numbing cream and no plasters and I encourage her to tell the medical staff these rules herself.
  • Acknowledge feelings. It’s ok to be upset. When she is having blood taken she can shout and cry as much as she needs to but she has to try to sit still or it will take much longer.
  • Praise, praise and more praise! I am still uncomfortable using the term ‘brave’ as it implies she isn’t allowed to show any negative feelings. Instead, if she has sat really still for an unpleasant procedure, I tell her how proud I am, and how she helped the doctors to help her.
  • We speak of peoples kind and generous acts highly, much more than anyone’s physical appearance or academic/sporting achievements. We are trying to show everyone is worthwhile and everyone has something to give.
  • Talking about fears. When she is worried about something we talk about what is worrying her and what would happen if the fear came true. Just talking through worst case scenarios can often banish worries and help children feel they have control.
  • We talk about her strengths and how some people have a knack for some things but not others. Encouraging her to recognise other people strengths and praise them for it is helping her grow into a kind and caring child.
  • Listening. It’s hard when they talk nonstop all the time! But I know when I show I am listening, it is helping develop her sense of self-worth.
  • For more tips and information I found this a useful resource:



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