Resilience is the ability to adapt in positive ways when faced with a tough situation. It is something that can be taught, learned and strengthened over time. One of the biggest predictors of resilience in children is having a parent who is resilient. Modeling resilient behavior in your own life – along with showing children your unconditional love and support – helps promote the development of this important life skill.
Acknowledge and accept that sometimes life is difficult. When faced with challenges, take care of your own physical and emotional needs and find someone supportive you can talk with, whether it’s a support group, counselor or friend. Don’t bottle up your feelings or try to take on everything yourself. Give yourself time to be upset and grieve, but also to laugh and/or vent to someone when needed.
Setting small personal goals such as “I will take a walk around the block” or “Today, I will accept someone’s offer to help” and rewarding yourself for your accomplishments helps keep you emotionally motivated, gives you something attainable to work toward, and creates moments of success and relief during times of stress. When you take the time to take care of yourself and listen to what your body or mind needs (“I should put down my phone and go to bed at a reasonable time” or “I deserve to take the time to do something I enjoy”), it helps strengthen you and enables you to be more fully present and able to face your challenging situation with a clear head. When your children see you taking time for yourself, it reinforces the importance of self-care in handling stressors in life. Teaching them healthy self-care such as exercise, prayer, reading or spending quality time with loved ones, gives children a chance to model and develop their own resilient nature.
Model coping skills
Take time to express your emotions. Be willing to talk about feeling sad or angry. Be sure to let your children see you doing positive activities that help you relax and cope (yoga, reading, going fishing, running, etc.).
Share appropriately with your child
There will be times when your child is aware that you are upset, angry or sad, whether you try to hide it or not. Share the basics about your feelings, recognizing that your child is not your confidant, and let them know you will not always feel this way.
Develop strong family bonds
Creating a warm, loving family environment provides a protective buffer for children. Knowing they have a loving family to turn to can make life’s challenging moments – disappointment at not making the team or getting the part in the play, worry about navigating complex friendships, nervousness about school, etc. – easier to handle or bounce back from. Be intentional about family time. Being actively engaged with one another encourages conversation, laughter, bonding and positive memories. It can be helpful to plan something fun, inexpensive, active and regular (weekly) for your family to do together.
Also, be intentional about one-on-one time with each child. One-on-one time allows you to get to know what each individual child is thinking about and what specific problems they may be worried about, but may not feel comfortable bringing up in front of everyone else. Having individual time can permit deeper, richer conversations and discussions that give you a clearer idea of how each child is processing a situation and how you can help.
Really listen to your child
Tell children that they matter and you love them no matter what. Always show them that their feelings matter. Listen with warmth, acceptance and understanding, especially when talking about a tough or upsetting situation they may be going through. Let your child know you’re listening to what they’re saying and you recognize how they’re feeling. You can likely come up with an example when you’ve felt similarly in your own life and share what helped you make it through or a “silver lining” that came out of it – like a new friend or finding a new activity you enjoy. Work together on problem-solving, asking your child what they think should happen and how they’d like to handle the situation. Also, as simple as it is: put down the phone when you talk with your child. Don’t look at it when you get text messages or say “Let me just take this quickly” if the phone rings. Be present.
Praise your child for accomplishments no matter how small, but also let them know that mistakes and disappointments are OK and part of learning and growing. Your resilience and support will strengthen your child’s ability to cope with difficult moments in life. Providing a strong foundation and being an example of how you’d like them to act when faced with a challenging situation can help you both move forward in positive ways.
Siri Garrett, certified child life specialist, contributing writer
Medical executive editor for mental health blog series: Bela Sood, MD
Adapted from grief support information provided by our Helping Children of Adult Patients program. The strategies highlighted are based on information from the Resource for Advancing Children’s Health Institute, an organization dedicated to developing techniques to improve children’s emotional and behavioral health.