Teaching Healthy Resiliency in Childhood
Almost every major life transition requires passing some sort of test before journeying on to the next phase. We cannot drive a car without passing a test; we cannot hold a job without first going through an interview; we cannot get into college without good SAT or ACT scores; we cannot get married without applying for a license and so forth. However, when it comes to having children, there is no test of parental capability and, needless to say, children are not born with a “how-to” handbook.
Parenting would be easier if there were a formula, if we knew with certainty that every eight-year-old would act in a specific way. However, this is definitely not the case. Each child uniquely pushes the boundaries, experiences life and is impacted by outside influences. Parenting is not easy. From day one, we are supposed to know how to parent these little humans into wonderful big humans who have the resilient ability to contribute and thrive in society—a task that we, as parents, may feel we aren’t quite accomplishing.
SO WHERE DO WE BEGIN?
Children are said to be resilient. I disagree. Children are not resilient, rather they are absorbent. They absorb all that life throws at them—the good, the bad and the ugly. These little ones may seem flexible because they go with the flow or perhaps do not have much to say about a given experience when, in reality, what they are doing is attempting to work out in their own minds how to make sense of their worlds. As parents and caregivers, one of our key roles is to help children understand what is happening. Those who are able to make sense of what’s going on around them are better able to withstand life experiences. Teaching resiliency is necessary and prepares children to healthily face all that life may bring.
The following five (not-so-easy) steps can help ensure that you are leading your children towards healthy resiliency:
LISTEN AND TALK. When you take a moment to put down your computer and phone, turn off your television and radio, and stop worrying about tasks that need to be completed and actually communicatively engage with your children, you will find that they have quite a world to show you. Slowing down for just 20 minutes a day to interact face-to-face with your children tells them that you are there for just them and that you care about them. Remember, quality is more important than quantity.
PLAY. The language of children is play. They may not have the vocabulary to tell you what is going on so they will often act out their experiences via play. Playing with your children creates attachment bonds that last long into adolescence and adulthood.
TEACH EMOTION WORDS. All emotions are okay to feel but children may not have the words for every emotion, therefore may act out in response to feeling something they do not understand. Teach children words by wondering aloud about feelings, e.g., “I wonder if you’re feeling frustrated because it is time for bed but you want to watch T.V.,” drawing pictures of faces together or making the faces of different emotions, and helping your children notice body messages, e.g., “When someone stands with clenched fists, what do you think that means?” Teaching emotions encourages self- and other-awareness.
ENCOURAGE SELF-REGULATION. Children need to be taught how to self-regulate. In other words, they need to be taught how to calm themselves down. The best way to encourage self-regulation is to provide a safe predictable environment with consistent reassuring interactions. Modeling is elemental as well so be sure you are showing parental strength by calming yourself down even when it may be easier to lose it. Remember, these little ones are watching and absorbing everything!
PRAISE. Recognizing what children do wrong is easy. Catching them doing something right and verbally acknowledging their actions isn’t as easy but is essential in encouraging healthy growth. Praise conveys that you see them and that you know they are contributing something of value. Children thrive on hearing that you are proud of them and that they have done something to please you. The more a behavior is praised, the more likely you will see that behavior repeated.
By Megan Clunan, MA, LMHC, LPC