Resilience – that ability to roll with the punches and bounce back from difficult times or general stress- is vital in helping our children not only manage anxiety and other problems, but in enjoying a good quality of life.
As parents it is only natural to want to protect your child from experiencing the pain and suffering of some of life’s curve balls. However, the pain of tough times also means experiencing growth if we allow it.
Our society tends to tell us that if something is good, then more of it must be better- hence the idea of ‘helicopter’ parenting. Too much hovering over a child to protect them, or’ lawn mower’ parenting (not only hovering and protecting but pre-empting problems and mowing down obstacles in their child’s way), can harm your child. Whilst very traumatic experiences are not helpful for long term resilience, protecting children from any difficult experiences stunts children’s growth and resilience. Having obstacles to overcome is what builds resilience, as they learn from the experience, develop coping skills and can remember “Well I got through that so I can probably get through this.” Thus rather than hard times being something to avoid, kids with resilience can see them as a challenge.
An Australian study (Fuller, 2014) of 16000 kids found that children with high resilience believed:
I have a parent who cares about me
I have a parent who listens to me
Here are some things you can do as a parent to help your child feel cared for and heard:
- Make time: Stop saying “I’m busy”, otherwise kids withdraw and we miss out on important connections with them. Our relationships with them suffer as they become older.
- Put your phone away when you are talking with them. Studies show that the presence of smartphones interferes with the quality of conversation. Being truly present is crucial in nurturing our children.
- Build empathy in your child: help your child by having him or her help others. Not only does contributing to others help us feel good, it teaches us how to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, to feel others’ pain and to be a good friend. It helps us connect with others. Humans are social beings and connecting is important for resilience.
- Turn off screens at certain times of the day so it is just you and your kids. No beeps!
- Make eye contact and physically turn towards your child- When your child wants to communicate with you, stop what you are doing. They will more likely feel listened to and cared for.
- Listen but don’t always try to fix the problem. Listening means looking, nodding, checking you have understood the content, and then asking “What do you think you could do”? They likely have the answers inside them.
- Encourage self care in your child. Teach them the importance of not only helping with chores, but looking after themselves: e.g. healthy eating, getting enough sleep and making enough time for fun.
- Encourage routines for a sense of safety and security, but also acceptance that change is an important part of living life to the full! Change can help us have great new experiences and set new goals that were otherwise unattainable.
- Encourage your child to see their tough experience as an opportunity for growth. Ask them what they have learned from the experience not only about what to do next time, but some of their strengths.
- Make sure there is some free, unstructured time- that allows for creativity and space to solve problems rather than worrying constantly or focusing on task completion.
- Help your child keep perspective and see hope for the future. Although when faced with hard times it can be difficult to see a light at the end of the tunnel, it is important to remind your child of the good things in life and to keep going even though the present is painful. Asking them to look at times when they’ve felt before that things wouldn’t work out and what actually happened can help shift focus.
- Set and move towards small goals: breaking them into small steps makes goals more likely to be achieved as well as providing opportunities for praise for what has been accomplished rather than what has not, building resilience to move ahead in the face of difficulties.Contributed by Dr Karen Hancock, Registered Psychologist