Building Resilience in Children
My children are grown and I have four beautiful grandchildren. As parents and grandparents, it’s our responsibility to make sure our children and grandchildren know the world is a better place because they are in it. Let’s face it, the world can be a cruel and frightening place for adults and children alike. Think of some of the things that are difficult for you to understand and to deal with and then think about how these things affect your special little ones: illness, bullying, crime, death, etc. Knowing how to respond to various situations is critical in a child’s emotional well-being.
We rarely attribute stress as a factor in our little ones psychological and physical health. However, children experience stress just as much or more as adults. Children generally respond differently to stress depending on their age and coping skills, which often causes parents to overlook the underlying issues.
Stress in children can be caused by things such as: a new sibling, problems at school, moving, family turmoil, always being on the go, bullying, scary movies, long car trips, family members who are consistently yelling or peer pressure.
We can’t always be with our children and/or grandchildren and protect them from what life throws at them, however, we can try to provide them with tools to be resilient. It’s important to listen, to build a child’s self-worth, to provide a safe environment, provide a calm atmosphere and it’s extremely important to be a good role model. By viewing challenges as opportunities for growth, we are creating and demonstrating a healthy-resilient mindset that our children and grandchildren will model.
Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D., MS Ed, FAAP, a pediatrician specializing in Adolescent Medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and Co-Founder of Programs at Center for Parent and Teen Communication, has identified the seven “C”s of resilience.
Dr. Ginsburg writes, “Bottom Line #1:
Young people live up or down to expectations we set for them. They need adults who believe in them unconditionally and hold them to the high expectations of being compassionate, generous, and creative.”
Competence describes the feeling of knowing that you can handle a situation effectively. We can help the development of competence by:
- Helping children focus on individual strengths
- Focusing any identified mistakes on specific incidents
- Empowering children to make decisions
- Being careful that your desire to protect your child doesn’t mistakenly send a message that you don’t think he or she is competent to handle things
- Recognizing the competencies of siblings individually and avoiding comparisons
A child’s belief in his own abilities is derived from competence. Build confidence by:
- Focusing on the best in each child so that he or she can see that, as well
- Clearly expressing the best qualities, such as fairness, integrity, persistence, and kindness
- Recognizing when he or she has done well
- Praising honestly about specific achievements; not diffusing praise that may lack authenticity
- Not pushing the child to take on more than he or she can realistically handle
Developing close ties to family and community creates a solid sense of security that helps lead to strong values and prevents alternative destructive paths to love and attention. You can help your child connect with others by:
- Building a sense of physical safety and emotional security within your home
- Allowing the expression of all emotions, so that kids will feel comfortable reaching out during difficult times
- Addressing conflict openly in the family to resolve problems
- Creating a common area where the family can share time (not necessarily TV time)
- Fostering healthy relationships that will reinforce positive messages
Children need to develop a solid set of morals and values to determine right from wrong and to demonstrate a caring attitude toward others. To strengthen your child’s character, start by:
- Demonstrating how behaviors affect others
- Helping your child recognize himself or herself as a caring person
- Demonstrating the importance of community
- Encouraging the development of spirituality
- Avoiding racist or hateful statements or stereotypes
Children need to realize that the world is a better place because they are in it. Understanding the importance of personal contribution can serve as a source of purpose and motivation. Teach your children how to contribute by:
Communicating to children that many people in the world do not have what they need
- Stressing the importance of serving others by modeling generosity
- Creating opportunities for each child to contribute in some specific way
Learning to cope effectively with stress will help your child be better prepared to overcome life’s challenges. Positive coping lessons include:
- Modeling positive coping strategies on a consistent basis
- Guiding your child to develop positive and effective coping strategies
- Realizing that telling him or her to stop the negative behavior will not be effective
- Understanding that many risky behaviors are attempts to alleviate the stress and pain in kids’ daily lives
- Not condemning your child for negative behaviors and, potentially, increasing his or her sense of shame
Children who realize that they can control the outcomes of their decisions are more likely to realize that they have the ability to bounce back. Your child’s understanding that he or she can make a difference further promotes competence and confidence. You can try to empower your child by:
- Helping your child to understand that life’s events are not purely random and that most things that happen are the result of another individual’s choices and actions
- Learning that discipline is about teaching, not punishing or controlling; using discipline to help your child to understand that his actions produce certain consequences
Dr. Ginsburg summarizes with the following:
- Children need to know that there is an adult in their life who believes in them and loves them unconditionally.
- Kids will live “up” or “down” to our expectations.
I am by no means an expert or claim to be, however, the great news is that resiliency is something we can all learn to grow within ourselves. There is enough research to guide us in the right direction to plant the seeds in our little ones that will help them develop the skills to be able to overcome obstacles and to be happy and more resilient.