Why is it that one youth involved in a trauma or difficult situation seems to bounce right back with little effect on their daily functioning while the next youth needs professional help and may still take forever to get back to their usual self? Young people often see their teenage years as a time for freedom, getting what you want and having a fun, carefree time. However, youth alone offers no shield against the emotional hurts and traumas many kids face. The uncertainties that are inherent to growing up, and childhood itself, can be anything but carefree. Youth can be asked to deal with problems ranging from adapting to a new classroom to bullying by classmates or even abuse at home. Resilience empowers kids to thrive despite these challenges.
The good news is that resilience is learnable. Much of our counselling takes into account that youth (and adults) may react strongly to the various situations which causes them anxiety, stress, frustration and anger. Counselling typically includes resilience training. 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 youth 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 youth. These skills involve behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned over time. Our children are never too old, or young, to learn resilience. 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. In order to facilitate their social skills, teach them the skill of empathy, or feeling another’s pain. Encourage your child to be a friend so they can get a friend. Build a strong family network to support your child through their inevitable disappointments and hurts. At school, watch to make sure that one child is not isolated. Connecting with people provides social support and strengthens resilience. Some find comfort in connecting through prayer.
Tip 2: Help your child by having them help others: Children who feel helpless can find empowerment by helping others. Engage your child in age-appropriate volunteer work, or ask for assistance yourself with some task that they 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. Cultivate mindfulness and independence in your child by encouraging them 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 them. Be aware of what your child is exposed to that can be troubling to them, whether it be news, the internet, or overheard conversations. Make sure your child takes a break from those things that they find troubling. Although schools carry accountability 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 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. We all need to be cognizant of what we are doing for ourselves.
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 is a tiny step – and receiving praise for doing so will focus your child on they have accomplished rather than on what hasn’t yet been accomplished, and can help build the resilience to move forward despite 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 they have
successfully handled hardships in the past and then help him understand that these past challenges help them build the strength to handle future challenges. Help your child learn to trust themselves to solve problems and make appropriate decisions. Teach your child to see the humor in life, and the ability to laugh at themselves. 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 them look at the situation in a broader context and maintain a long-term perspective. Although your child may be too young to consider a long-term look on their own, help them 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 exemplify 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 examine how whatever they are facing can teach them “what they are 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 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.
Further to these ten Tips, the key to success with these tips are two major pointers to remember:
First, all humans need to be validated and secondly, we all need constant praise. These are the “Golden Rules” to success. We must validate our children’s feelings and praise their actions. After that, we must always teach our children (and selves) how to self-praise. If others do not praise us, we must know how to praise ourselves. This is the closest guarantee we can get to ensuring our children’s success, both physically and emotionally.
Developing resilience is a personal journey and you should 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.
Finally, 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 across.