Why is it that one youth involved in a trauma or difficult situation seems to bounce right back with little effect on his daily functioning while another youth seems to take forever to get back to his usual self?
Childhood is often seen as a time for freedom, getting what you want and having fun in a carefree time. However, youth alone offers no shield against the emotional hurts and traumas many children face. The uncertainties that are part of growing up, and childhood itself can be anything but carefree. Children can be asked to deal with problems ranging from adapting to a new classroom to bullying by classmates or even abuse at home. The ability to thrive despite these challenges arises from the skills of resilience.
The good news is that resilience can be learned. Much of our counseling takes into effect that youth (and adults) often react to the various situations which causes them anxiety, stress, frustration and anger. Resilience training is often a part of that counseling. Resilience is the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress. However, just because our children have developed resilience, does not mean they won’t experience difficulties and distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common when we have suffered a major trauma or personal loss, or even when we hear of someone else’s loss or trauma.
As adults, we can develop skills of resilience and teach them to our children. These skills involve behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned over time. Here are ten tips for building resilience in children and teens I would like to share with you:
Tip 1: Make connections: Teach your child how to make friends, to be empathetic and feel another’s pain. 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 through prayer.
Tip 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. At school, brainstorm with children about ways they can help others.
Tip 3: Maintain a daily routine: Sticking to a routine can be comforting to children, especially the younger ones who crave structure in their lives. Encourage your child to develop his or her own routines.
Tip 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. Make sure your child takes a break from those things that he finds troubling. 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.
Tip 5: Teach your child self-care: Set agood 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 that every moment of his or her life has been scheduled to the last second. Downtime is very important. Caring for oneself and even having fun will help your child stay balanced and better deal with stressful times.
Tip 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. This can help build the resilience necessary to move forward in the face of challenges. At school, break down large assignments into small, achievable goals for younger children. For older children, acknowledge accomplishments on the way to larger goals.
Tip 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 or her understand that these past challenges help build strength to handle future challenges. Help your child learn to trust him or herself to solve problems and make appropriate decisions. Teach your child to see the humor in life, and how to laugh at one’s self. At school, help children see how their individual accomplishments contribute to the well being of the class as a whole.
Tip 8: Keep things in perspective and maintain a hopeful outlook: Even when your child is facing very painful events, help him or look at the situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Even when children are too young to consider a long-term look on their own, they can be taught to 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 can keep going even in the hardest times. In school, use history to show that life moves on after bad events.
Tip 9: Look for opportunities for self-discovery: Tough times are often when children learn the most about themselves. Help your child take a look at how whatever he or she is facing can show “what he or she is made of.” At school, consider leading discussions of what each student has learned after facing down a tough situation.
Tip 10: Accept that change is part of living: Change can often be scary for children and teens. Help your child see that change is part of life and new goals can replace ones that have become unattainable. In school, point out how students have changed as they moved up in grade levels and discuss how that change has had an impact on them.
Developing resilience is a personal journey and you should use your knowledge of your own children to guide them. An approach to building resilience that works for you or for one particular child, might not work for another. If your child seems stuck or overwhelmed and unable to use the tips listed above, you may want to consider talking to a psychologist or other mental health professional. Turning to someone for guidance may help your child strengthen his or her resilience and persevere during times of stress or trauma.
Finally, we need to remember – children live what they learn and learn what they live. As adults, we need resilience skills for ourselves and in order to teach them. Let’s learn how to be good role models for our children and everyone else we come into contact with.
Mr. Schild is the Executive Director of Regesh Family and Child Services in Toronto, Ontario Canada. Regesh runs many programs helping families and youth dealing with personal and family issues in their lives. He is currently open to speaking engagements. He can be reached at 416-495-8832 extension 222 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.regesh.com.