Resilience is when we maintain healthy development despite our adversity. A quick google search of the definition brings up phrases like “elasticity,” “recover quickly from difficulties,” “return to previous form.” Perhaps those definitions are true to some degree, but when it comes to children and adolescents many adapt to their environment to sustain themselves, often engaging in unhealthy behaviors that allow them to survive in less than optimal conditions. One thing is for sure though, children never return to their previous form; they grow, evolve, learn and condition themselves to navigate life’s emotional difficulties.
The behavioral tools and coping skills they pick up along the way are a combination of healthy and unhealthy, effective and maladaptive, isolating and engaging, the list goes on. Our children are learning these behaviors from the vast expanse of their environments; peers, parents, siblings, social media, tv, video games, the person in the restaurant at the next table over.
True resiliency in children means they are able to weather the emotional ups and downs of life and continue to developmentally thrive. Resilient children do not always choose healthy ways of managing their emotions or anxieties, but they ARE managing them. As parents, caretakers and adults with vested interest in the emotional safety and well being of children we can all do three things right now to support and foster resiliency and emotional stability for children.
How to Build a Child's Resilience
1. Put your phone down.
Kids need to know that they are the priority over a work email or Facebook. They are taking their emotional cues from you, when you choose the phone over an interaction with them you miss an opportunity to remind them they are the most important thing in the room. Technology isn't going away, BUT YOUR KIDS EVENTUALLY WILL.
They will learn from everyone else in the world that cell phones and computers are important, your role as a parent is to ensure that your support will be given when they bring worries, concerns and questions from outside into the home. Stability supports resiliency. BE the stable relationship in your child’s life that allows them to navigate their emotional landscape.
2. Provide consistency.
Consistency creates routine and predictability. Whether it’s the nighttime routine before bed, or the guaranteed Saturday afternoon with dad playing basketball, consistency creates a space for children to depend on. It is far easy for a child to handle the stress of a tough week at school when she knows on Thursday she will get some one on one time with her mom to talk about it. Consistency allows children and adolescents to “turn into the family” when they are having a hard time or needing support, as opposed to looking to outside influences to mitigate their stress and anxiety. Eat with your kids. Research shows it supports healthy eating patterns.
3. Talk to kids about how they feel.
Feeling is natural. No matter what, your kids will feel. But knowing how to put those feelings into words is a learned skill. Most children and adolescents walk, talk and act far more mature than their actual age. We need to remind ourselves that they are master imitators. Most children are not cognitively developed enough to fully understand and process their emotions. While it might seem that they understand what they are saying, they likely need help matching the correct words with their emotions. Anger is the easiest and most often expressed emotion in teens, it’s the most socially acceptable and accessible.
Anger is primal. It is about survival. Anger goes hand in hand with many other emotions, and when given the language, space and opportunity to explore the other emotions can be very empowering. A safe environment for exploring emotions fosters self awareness, intrinsic validation and resiliency.
To schedule an appointment with Caroline Harris, LMFT-Associate, call 512-915-3063.