by Cathy Lumsden
As September settles in, many people have mixed emotions about the end of summer. Some love getting back to routines and schedules while others dread them. When I was in high school and university I would be the one with mixed feelings. However, with age I am learning I can experience a variety of emotions plus move forward and be resilient, despite the reality of school in session, vacation time ending (for now) and traffic increasing!
What is Resilience?
Resilience can be defined as picking yourself up when there is adversity, change, threat or perceived threat. It is an important aspect of mental health. Resilient people are able to adapt, cope and learn from incidents that have occurred in their lives.
Supporting your children to strengthen and/or build resilience benefits them for a lifetime. Caring parents, teachers, daycare workers and family members can help teach resilience and make a difference in children’s lives.
Some children perceive change as unsettling. For instance, we all know kids who are disturbed to find their teachers leaving due to maternity/paternity leave. We also know parents who find it heart-wrenching to deal with social pitfalls, such as the exclusion their children can experience during the school years. However, research shows adaptability is one of the nine temperament traits with which we are born (Chess and Thomas, 1977).
Resilience can be taught! Learning to have the courage to say “I can” versus “I can’t” is teachable.
How To Develop Resilience:
- The first step is to foster awareness that there will be setbacks in life. Many people hope that if they do A, B, C and be good citizens, life will tick along fine. The reality is that sometimes this is true and sometimes it isn’t. Because we are human and cannot control everything in our lives, change always happens. That’s why it’s necessary to focus on what we can control.
Share some stories with your children about how you handled uncertainty at different times in your life. Perhaps you had mantras such as “The best things in life sometimes start out as the worst” or “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” Reassuring your children that you will always be there for them gives them a solid sense of security when life seems uncertain. And teaching them how to relax, meditate and do yoga equips them with helpful life skills to handle the uncertainty that comes from setbacks and change.
- Help your children feel safe by being empathetic and assisting them to look at different perspectives. When emotions take over it is easy for both children and adults to blow things out of proportion or to minimize the impact. Catching your negative thinking can shift your feelings. For example, if your children are feeling excluded, assist them to understand that tomorrow everything can be different. Perhaps they have seen other kids experience exclusion and then the next day everything is fine.
Teach your children how to problem solve, brainstorm and generate a variety of ideas and solutions to problems. These are ways to help them understand different viewpoints. Sometimes at school, children are taught how to debate or how to write papers from two opposing positions. These lessons reinforce the importance of seeing different perspectives.
- Teach and model concrete skills to your children. For example, if they played in the mud and now have dirty sneakers, ask them how they are going to fix the situation. Give them some time to think of some options. Don’t jump in and provide the answers. If they are really stuck, start the brainstorming process with them. Most kids these days know how to google and can find answers to almost anything.
- Guide them to manage uncomfortable feelings. It’s okay to feel anger, for example, because the teacher made the class stay in for recess. Listening goes a long way—no fixing, blaming or colluding. If you have a difficult time seeing your children in emotional upheaval, you may try to fix or pamper them. What they really need from you is empathy and tools to move forward.
- Build on strengths and talents. What are your children’s strengths? Research has shown that self-esteem is connected to resilience. Our children have innate strengths; however, parents may not step back, watch and focus on these gifts. Take some time to discuss your children’s personality strengths and explore how these strengths can be used to create a successful school year. For example, if one of your daughter’s or son’s strengths is curiosity, you can teach him or her to explore and research topics of interest and creatively complete homework assignments.
- Set expectations. It’s important to teach your children to be active participants in the household. Many parents establish the rules that dinnertime means eating together, without electronics, and that everyone has tasks to do to keep the home running smoothly. Contributing to the family helps to build stamina. Although not many of us want to clean sinks and toilets, doing tasks that aren’t fun is part of building resilience and developing the ability to manage discomfort.
Every challenge faced is an opportunity to build resilience. When you choose to see it as an opportunity rather than a threat, you help your children to see that there is, in fact, a choice.