I can’t tell you how many times a friend or a client has said, “I’m glad I grew up when I did. I wouldn’t want to be a kid today.” Ignoring the fact most of us tend to look at the past with nostalgia, there is some truth to that sentiment. Today’s children are contending with things and situations most of us as parents never encountered, from late-night social media bullying, to lockdown drills at school, to an anything-goes popular media, to the pandemic. It’s an environment that’s daunting for adults to handle, much less kids.
Parents can only do so much to change the environments surrounding their children, and that can be frightening and frustrating. But you do have the power to give your kids the skills and confidence they need to contend with all those threats and issues.
Resiliency is a term describing the ability to bounce back when something unexpected or difficult happens. Every life is filled with setbacks, disappointments, painful moments, and even trauma, and people who are emotionally strong generally know how to recover from those situations and prepare for the next challenge. In other words, resiliency is how we bring ourselves back to whatever we consider to be normal. Research proves people who are resilient tend to be physically healthier, get sick less often and miss less work and school, are less likely to engage in dangerous behavior like substance abuse.
Think of resiliency as a muscle. Each time you draw upon it, it becomes stronger and improves your ability to use it again. Whenever we get past a difficult situation — whether we conquer it, find a way around it, or just plain get knocked down — what we learn from it makes us better able to tackle the next. As a parent, it’s hard to watch your child struggle after a major disappointment. Because you have the benefit of more life experiences, you know that whatever happened is just a brief bump in the road your child will soon forget, but you also know the hurt they feel right now is real.
How do you help your children develop resiliency and what’s killing their ability to become resilient? Structure. Nuture. Engagement and challenge. According to the Theraplay Institute, these are the four primary ingredients to building resilience.
Structure includes knowing what to expect and when. It includes setting limits on video games and social media, and setting a time for rest as well as activity. Structure tells your child that he is safe.
Nurture includes providing healthy meals, plenty of sleep, movement, and loving support with daily life challenges. Nurture tells your child that he is loved.
Engagement includes knowing what they are experiencing at school, in friend groups, and in extracurricular activities. It’s putting the phone down to see look in tier eyes to understand them. Engagement tells your child that they are important to you and in this world.
Challenge includes giving opportunities to struggle and succeed, as well as to struggle and fail, too. It says they are capable of trying news things, no matter the outcome. One of the best ways is encouraging them to try new things and supporting them even when those things don’t work out. When child doesn’t make the youth soccer team, they’re going to be upset. If you want to build resilience, you’ll let them feel that way and discuss what they might do differently in the future.
I understand your desire to protect your kids from life’s bad moments and to build kids that can “tough it out.” But remember we learn from bad moments and they help us grow too. Instead of trying to fix the bad things, let your children know you understand how they feel and that it’s okay to feel bad, but they need to keep moving ahead.
The very best way to teach your kids resiliency is to model these elements for yourself. Your behavior and emotions when you encounter setbacks send clear signals to your kids. If you yell and swear when things don’t go your way, guess what they’re going to do in similar situations? But when you handle a disappointment by being sad for a moment and then moving forward, they’ll learn that’s what mature adults do.
Conversely, what kills resilience? Not getting enough rest, constantly eating fast foods, drinking sugary drinks, staying inside on video games, getting yelled at when not getting certain grades or achieving parent goals… all of these things kill your child’s ability to be resilient and will most definitely lead your child to show behavior that is difficult to manage.
If you see your child struggling and you’re not sure how to help them, or if you see behavior that is difficult to understand or frustrating to parent, please schedule an appointment with us. Our counselors have been in resilience, in trauma informed care, and in ways to help you parent as well as help you child navigate the world we live in. We’re here to help guide you through these challenges.
April Bordeau is the Director of Care to Change. A licensed clinical social worker, she has focused on helping children and families overcome challenges in their lives for over 25 years.