Resiliency is a fascinating subject of study pertinent to parenting. Children who are able to rebound from adversities are healthier psychologically and show better outcomes academically and socially, so it’s in their best interest to develop a sense of inner grit.
As a child therapist, I often wonder what sets apart the children who are able to manage and thrive in environments plagued by adversity, abuse and poverty, from those who seem to succumb to it. But, resiliency doesn’t have to mean the ability to bounce back from such extremes. Some children are just more flexible, able to pick themselves up and dust themselves off.
Resilience turns out to be a life skill, and research has shown it’s something we can cultivate in our kids. Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia authored a guide in collaboration with the American Academy of Pediatrics focused on building resilience in children and teens. They’ve outlined several qualities that parents can instill in their children.
It’s not a surprise that adults who have a network of friends and family to call on in times of stress have fewer mental health issues, live longer, and have fewer chronic health diagnoses. That being said, social skills are learned, and childhood is the time for practice. By providing ample opportunities and modeling pro-social skills, your children will be on their way. The more stable, nurturing adults a child has to rely on, the better. Connections to others serves as protection for children at risk. We know that if a child has just one person who consistently offers caring, unconditional support, they can use that foundation for healthy development.
Empowering children to make their own decisions builds mastery. If your child chooses a hobby, support him or her in the endeavor; provide resources and encouragement. Children who see that they are successful in a specific area of life feel hopeful and in control. Children are likely to see that if they have skills (like reading, writing, getting along with others, problem solving) then they are more optimistic when facing a new barrier. This is also true even if the skills they excel at aren’t transferable to the task at hand.
Children who see that they have an influence on the world are more resilient. Encouraging your child to contribute to others will provide them perspective, gratitude and an understanding that they can make an impact. Contribution builds a sense of purpose, which is important for persistently moving toward a goal and feeling that its attainable.
The best way to teach your child positive coping skills is to use them yourself. Sometimes I suggest parents of young children to verbalize, “I'm upset and I’m going to take a few deep breaths to calm down.” This is the ultimate way to “walk the walk.” Guiding your child through the inevitability of disappointment and sadness is a way to show that life goes on. Additionally, pointing out that your child has managed difficult situations in the past helps to build competence. Talk through a resiliency inventory. Ask your child to recount a time there was a challenge in their life. What did they do in order to both survive and thrive? Ask if any of these skills can be used currently.
We all want our children to succeed, and one of the best predictors is a strong sense of self. Children who are resilient feel that they have the tools and support to deal with upsetting events. As parents we can’t control what comes at them in life, but we can help them to build their response to it.
Whitney Barrell, LCSW holds a master's degree in Social Work. She works as a child therapist focused on mental health issues in children and families. Find out more: www.whitneybarrellcounseling.com.