Parenting

Of the many angles that we could take in talking about parenting on our website, we felt that a focus on building resilience in our children would be a highly practical and timely topic.

 

Building resilience - the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress - can help our children manage stress and feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. However, being resilient does not mean that children won't experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common when we have suffered major trauma or personal loss, or even when we hear of someone else's loss or trauma.

 

It seemed to us that this focus would also reflect the positive and practical approach that we take to treatment in our clinic, and provide a practical way for visitors to our website to think about and experiment with their own parenting issues.

 

It seems easy sometimes for us to idealise childhood as a carefree time, but youth alone offers no shield against the emotional hurts and traumas many children face. Children can be asked to deal with problems ranging from adapting to a new classroom to bullying by classmates or even abuse at home. Add to that the uncertainties that are part of growing up, and childhood for many of our children can be anything but carefree. The ability to thrive despite these challenges arises from the skills of resilience.

 

The good news is that resilience skills can be learned.

 

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The journey of resilience

 

Developing resilience is a personal journey and you should use your knowledge of your own children to guide them on their journey. An approach to building resilience that works for you or your child might not work for someone else. If your child seems stuck or overwhelmed and unable to use the tips listed above, you may want to consider talking to someone who can help, such as a psychologist or other mental health professional. Turning to someone for guidance may help your child strengthen resilience and persevere during times of stress or trauma.

 

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Tips for building resilience in children and teens

 

We all can develop resilience, and we can help our children develop it as well. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned over time. The following are some tips to consider in building resilience in our children.

 

1. Make connections

 

Teach your child how to make friends, including the skill of compassion, or having an awareness and concern for another's feelings. Encourage your child to be a friend in order to get friends. Build a strong family network to support your child through his or her inevitable disappointments and hurts. At school, watch to make sure that one child is not being isolated. Connecting with people provides social support and strengthens resilience. Some find comfort in connecting with a higher power, whether through organised religion or privately, and you may wish to introduce your child to your own traditions of worship.

 

2. Help your child by having him or her help others

 

Children who may feel helpless can be empowered by helping others. Engage your child in age-appropriate volunteer work, or ask for assistance yourself with some task that he or she can master. In the school setting, help your child to brainstorm about ways they can help others.

 

3. Maintain a daily routine

 

Sticking to a routine can be comforting to children, especially younger children who crave structure in their lives. Encourage your child to develop his or her own routines. This is an important strategy emphasised by the 'Super Nanny' of television fame.

 

4. Take a break

 

While it is important to stick to routines, endlessly worrying can be counter-productive. Teach your child how to focus on something besides what's worrying him. Be aware of what your child is exposed to that can be troubling, whether it be news, the Internet, or overheard conversations, and make sure your child takes a break from those things if they trouble her. Although schools are being held accountable for performance on standardized tests, build in unstructured time during the school day to allow children to be creative.

 

5. Teach your child self-care

 

Make yourself a good example, and teach your child the importance of making time to eat properly, exercise and rest. Make sure your child has time to have fun, and make sure that your child hasn't scheduled every moment of his or her life with no 'down time' to relax. Caring for oneself and even having fun will help your child (and you) stay balanced and better deal with stressful times.

 

6. Move toward your goals

 

Teach your child to set reasonable goals and then to move toward them one step at a time. Moving toward that goal - even if it's a tiny step - and receiving praise for doing so will focus your child on what he or she has accomplished rather than on what hasn't been accomplished, and can help build the resilience to move forward in the face of challenges. At school, break down large assignments into small, achievable goals for younger children, and for older children, acknowledge accomplishments on the way to larger goals.

 

7. Nurture a positive self-view

 

Help your child remember ways that he or she has successfully handled hardships in the past and then help him understand that these past challenges help him build the strength to handle future challenges. Help your child learn to trust himself to solve problems and make appropriate decisions. Teach your child to see the humour in life, and the ability to laugh at one's self. With school mates or other friends of your child, consider helping them as a group to see how their individual accomplishments contribute to the wellbeing of others and their friendships.

 

8. Keep things in perspective and maintain a hopeful outlook

 

Even when your child is facing very painful events, help him look at the situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Although your child may be too young to consider a long-term look on his own, help him or her see that there is a future beyond the current situation and that the future can be good. An optimistic and positive outlook enables your child to see the good things in life and keep going even in the hardest times. In school, use history to show that life moves on after bad events.

 

9. Look for opportunities for self-discovery

 

Tough times are often the times when children learn the most about themselves. Help your child take a look at how whatever he is facing can teach him 'what he is made of.' You may find a way opening conversations that illuminate what has been learned after facing a tough situation.

 

10. Accept that change is part of living

 

Change often can be scary for children and teens. Help your child see that change is part of life and new goals can replace goals that have become unattainable. For example, you might point out how children change as they get older and move up in year levels and discuss how that change has had an impact on them.

 

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Resilience and pre-school children

 

Very young children will only recently have mastered the skills of walking and talking, and they may not be able to express their anxieties and fears. Although you may think they are too young to understand what is happening, even very young children can absorb frightening events from the news or from conversations they overhear. This effect is known as vicarious trauma.

 

Watch your children for signs of fear and anxiety they may not be able to put into words. Have your children become extra clingy, needing more hugs and kisses than usual? Have your children started wetting the bed or sucking their thumb after you thought they had outgrown that behaviour? They may be feeling the pressure of what is going on in the world around them. Use play to help your children express their fears and encourage them to use art or pretend games to express what they may not be able to put into words.

 

Use your family like a security blanket for your children: wrap them up in family closeness and make sure your children have lots of family time. During times of stress and change, spend more time with your children playing games, reading to them, or just holding them close.

 

Young children especially crave routine and rituals. If bedtime is the time you read stories to your children, make sure you keep that time for stories. Your child may be less able to handle change when he or she is going through a particularly rough time.

 

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Resilience and the early school years 

 

During their early years at school, children may be starting to bump into the cliques and teasing that can occur as children begin to establish the 'social order' of their schools. As they start to study subjects about the world outside of their homes, they look to teachers as well as to parents to make them feel safe and to help sort it all out.

 

Make sure your child has a place he or she feels safe, whether that is home or school (ideally, discussion about feelings of safety in both environments would be best).

 

Talk to your children. When they have questions, answer them honestly but simply and with reassurance that includes black-and-white statements that leave no room for doubt, such as 'I will always take care of you.' Don't discount their fears when they bring them to you.

 

When there is a situation outside of the home that is frightening, limit the amount of news your children watch or listen to. You don't need to hide what's happening in the world from your children, but neither do they have to be exposed to constant stories that fuel their fears.

 

Realise that extra stresses may heighten normal daily stresses. Your children might normally be able to handle a failed test or teasing, but be understanding that they may respond with anger or bad behavior to stress that normally wouldn't rattle them. Reassure them that you just expect them to do their best.

 

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Resilience and the mid-school years

 

Even without larger traumas, middle school can be an especially difficult time for many children as they struggle to meet extra academic demands and avoid new social pitfalls. They look to teachers and friends as well as to parents to make them feel safe.

 

Reinforce empathy and help your child keep perspective. When your child is a victim of the shifting social alliances that form in the middle school years, help him or her understand that other children may be feeling just as lonely and confused, and help her see beyond the current situation - alliances that shift one way may shift back again the next week at this age.

 

Talk with your child about your own feelings during times of extraordinary stress such as the death of a loved one. Your children probably are old enough to appreciate some grey areas in your own feelings, but you should leave no room for doubt when you talk about how you will do whatever it takes to keep them safe.

 

Enlist your children's help, whether it's a chore or an opinion about a family activity. Include your children in any volunteer activity you do. Make sure your children know how their actions contribute to the entire family's well-being. If your children know that they have roles to play, and that they can help, they will feel more in control and more confident.

 

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Resilience and the teenage years

 

Although your teens may tower over you, they still are very young and can keenly feel the fear and uncertainty of both the normal stresses of being a teen, as well as events in the world around them. Emotions may be volatile and close to the surface during the teen years and finding the best way to connect to your teen can be difficult.

 

Talk with your teens whenever you can, even if it seems they don't want to talk to you. Sometimes the best time to talk may be when you are in the car together; sometimes it may be when you are doing jobs together, allowing your teens to focus on something else while they talk. When your teens have questions, answer them honestly but with reassurance. Ask them their opinion about what is happening and listen to their answers.

 

Make your home a safe place emotionally for your teens. In the high school years, taunting and bullying can intensify - home should be a haven, especially as your teen encounters more freedoms and choices and looks to home to be a constant in his or her life. Your children may prefer to be with their friends rather than spend time with you, but be ready to provide lots of family time for them when they need it and set aside family time that includes their friends.

 

When stressful things are happening in the world at large, encourage your teen to take 'news breaks,' whether he or she is getting that news from the television, magazines or newspapers, or the Internet. Use the news as a catalyst for discussion. Teens may act like they feel immortal, but they are likely to still want to know that they will be alright. Honest discussions of your fears and expectations can help your teenager learn to express his own fears. If your teen struggles with words, encourage him or her to use journaling or art to express emotions.

 

Many teens are already feeling extreme highs and lows because of hormonal levels in their bodies; added stress or trauma can make these shifts seem more extreme. Be understanding but firm when teens respond to stress with angry or sullen behaviour. Reassure them that you just expect them to do their best.

 

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Communication tips for parents

  • Be available for your children
  • Notice times when your kids are most likely to talk - for example, at bedtime, before dinner, in the car - and be available.
  • Start the conversation; it lets your kids know you care about what's happening in their lives.
  • Find time each week for a one-on-one activity with each child, and avoid scheduling other activities during that time.
  • Learn about your children's interests - for example, favourite music and activities - and show interest in them.
  • Initiate conversations by sharing what you have been thinking about rather than beginning a conversation with a question.
  • Let your kids know you're listening
  • When your children are talking about concerns, stop whatever you are doing and listen.
  • Express interest in what they are saying without being intrusive.
  • Listen to their point of view, even if it's difficult to hear.
  • Let them complete their point before you respond.
  • Repeat what you heard them say to ensure that you understand them correctly.
  • Respond in a way your children will hear
  • Soften strong reactions; kids will tune you out if you appear angry or defensive.
  • Express your opinion without putting down theirs; acknowledge that it's okay to disagree.
  • Resist arguing about who is right. Instead say, 'I know you disagree with me, but this is what I think.'
  • Focus on your child's feelings rather than your own during your conversation.

 

Remember

  • Ask your children what they may want or need from you in a conversation, such as advice, simply listening, help in dealing with feelings, or help solving a problem.
  • Kids learn by imitating. Most often, they will follow your lead in how they deal with anger, solve problems, and work through difficult feelings.
  • Talk to your children - don't lecture, criticise, threaten, or say hurtful things.
  • Kids learn from their own choices. As long as the consequences are not dangerous, don't feel you have to step in.
  • Realise your children may test you by telling you a small part of what is bothering them. Listen carefully to what they say, encourage them to talk, and they may share the rest of the story.
  • Parenting is hard work.
  • Listening and talking is the key to a healthy connection between you and your children. But parenting is hard work and maintaining a good connection with teens can be challenging, especially since parents are dealing with many other pressures. If you are having problems over an extended period of time, you might want to consider consulting with a registered psychologist.

 

What if ... you found more genuine ways of relating to your child, where you felt more in charge, you both felt clearer about the boundaries and your child felt more confident to relate to you on that basis? Imagine that.

 

 

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We acknowledge that this page uses information published by the American Psychological Association and the Australian Psychological Society.