It’s normal for parents to want to take the stress away from their children. It can be hard to see your kiddo go through hard things. Unfortunately, not all stressors are inside parents’ control, and not all stress is bad. While taking away stressors may not always be the most realistic or helpful goal, focusing on building your child’s resilience can have many surprising benefits.
The Oxford Dictionary defines resilience as “the capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties.” In the parenting book, “How Children Succeed,” Paul Tough describes how an increase in the qualities and skills that we often describe as, ‘resilience,’ are linked to children who are able to navigate stressful situations successfully. This ability is associated with increased feelings of mastery, self-confidence, and an increased tendency to seek out developmentally appropriate challenges. An increase in resilience can also help buffer kids from experiencing the more negative effects of stress, including elevated levels of cortisol for lengthy periods of time, feelings of shame or doubt, and withdrawal from future challenges. The good news is that a lot of the skills that contribute to resilience are practices we can start working on today.
Follow these three steps to help your child become more resilient.
Flexible thinking patterns and behaviors are an essential component of being able to bounce back from challenges. Whether facing an unexpected obstacle, or problem-solving your way around a mistake, it can be helpful to normalize these situations and verbalize (out loud) your flexible self-talk or problem-solving process. This might sound like, “Oops, I forgot an ingredient at the store. That’s okay, I’ll improvise,” or, “Looks like our flight is going to be delayed. That happens sometimes. How should we make the most of our time?”
Discuss emotions freely
Emotional intelligence, defined as the ability to recognize and effectively regulate emotions, is another factor linked to kids who demonstrate higher levels of resilience (Tough, 2013). Since we can’t regulate emotions we don’t talk about, make it a routine practice to talk about feelings in the home. Whether that’s reflecting and validating your kid’s emotions, or discussing the emotions of characters in books or tv, help build your kid’s ability to effectively move through difficult emotions by getting curious about what helps them regulate. Different kids (and adults) respond better to different regulation strategies, so get curious and be a co-collaborator in helping your child identify what helps them manage their emotions.
Support well-rounded self-care
Effective stress management has been shown to be one of the key contributors to resiliency (Tough, 2013). While stress may be inevitable, one of the best ways to buffer your child from the deleterious effects of stress is to help build up their stress-recovery mechanisms. A few ways to do this include encouraging strong daily routines and supporting the development of well-rounded, balanced lives. This includes plenty of time for recreational activities, prioritizing rest, and building strong social networks. Community engagement opportunities, volunteerism, or connection to a spiritual and/or religious resource can all be ways to help foster a sense of connection and help build the foundation of resiliency.
As always, don’t hesitate to contact your child’s Pediatrician or a Licensed Mental Health Professional if you’re noticing signs of anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues in your child and you think more support might be needed.
Oxford English Dictionary. www.oed.com
Tough, P. (2013). How children succeed: grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character. Mariner books.