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. What do we mean by resilience? This 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, this does not mean that they won’t experience difficulties and 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.
We, as adults, can develop skills of resilience in order to teach our children. These skills involve behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned over time.
Ten tips to Build Resilience in Children and Youth
Tip 1: Make connections.
Teach your child how to make friends, including the skill of empathy. Encourage your child to be a good friend first. Build a strong family network to support your child through his or her inevitable disappointments and hurts. At school, watch to make sure that your child is not being isolated. Connecting with people provides social support and strengthens resilience.
Tip 2: Help your child by having them 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 younger children 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.
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 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, 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.
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 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 humor in life, and the ability to laugh at one’s self. At school, help children see how their individual accomplishments contribute to the wellbeing 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 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 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 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.” 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 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. 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 the students.
Developing resilience is a personal journey. 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.
We need to remember – children live what they learn and learn what they live. We, as adults, need resilience skills for both ourselves and our children. Let’s learn how to be good role models for our children and everyone else we come into contact with.
Many children struggle with their mental health and their family simply cannot afford it.
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Edwin Schild is the Executive Director of Regesh Family and Child Services in Toronto, Ontario Canada. Regesh runs many mental health programs helping families and youth dealing with personal and family issues in their lives. Edwin is currently open to new clients. He can be reached at 416-495-8832 extension 222 or email@example.com.