A wise and experienced parent once noted with profound articulation that, "Sh*t happens."
Everyday, families are faced with stressful situations that they didn't expect, can't control, and only hope to survive. These can include relocation, unemployment, community violence, mental illness, and even poverty. When these things strike, kids often suffer as they struggle to cope with new and sometimes unrelenting anxiety. Coping with childhood anxiety is a challenge for the whole family.
Luckily, I have some hope à la Dr. Ann Marsten. She calls it, "ordinary magic." You and I might call it resilience. Resilience is every parent's secret weapon. It is the thing we want to endow so that when sh*t does in fact happen, our kids can bounce back, find strength, and grow well.
Resilience is a dumbfounding little blip in the world of children's research. Simply put, many children survive and become successful even when their lives include many challenges. Many children cope and even thrive. Because of this scientists can't help but ask how, why, and what can we do to build these skills?
Parents too want to know what they can do to make sure that when the unpredictable hits, their children have some serious storehouses of curiosity, the ability to stay in relationship, and the grit to survive.
Psychological and Relational resilience is one inoculation that we can all agree on. Here is how you can do it:
And if you want to see how these translate into daily activities to build resilience, Click Here (or above) and I'll email you a great list of daily resilience-building habits that you can begin with your kids. Plus you'll get access to my growing library of free resources.
1. Enhance importance cognitive and social capacities
Support a child's capacity to learn. Help them relate well to others with strong social skills. Help a child use their imagination + play. And do the hard work to help your child see themselves as a part of a community.
Seeing themselves as a part of a community is an especially powerful tool because it discourages feelings of isolation and hopelessness. Knowing that you are nested in community also helps children imagine asking for help and finding help in their time of need.
Build a sense of community by choosing a community or two that your family can become involved with (even if you and your spouse are kind of homebodies). Get out there! Visit your local municipality’s website for city-wide activities. Attend birthday parties and become involved in the culture of your child’s classroom. You also might consider joining a religious community. If you have intimate friends, model togetherness and support through your own social gatherings.
2. Buttress their emotional understanding and language
Develop a child's awareness and regulation of her own feelings. Help him develop the skills and strategies for getting his needs met and communicating how he feels.
As you can imagine, being able to express in words how you are feeling is one of the most valuable tools you can give your children. Emotional and verbal prowess has the ability to reduce tantrums and acting-out behavior by giving your child a healthier way to express their experience and ask for help. When a child’s frustrations or needs reach beyond the limits of their vocabulary, it is incredibly frustrating and can often compound the troubling feelings.
Broaden your emotional vocabulary to 10-15 words that you regularly use. Think about the words “happy” “sad” or “angry” as having many shades. Consider implementing these “shades” (calm, satisfied, annoyed, impatient, hurt) into your daily conversation. Invite your children to use these words as they review their day before bed or at the dinner table at night. Discourage the more global, “I AM angry,” with “I FEEL angry.” This not only gives your child an emotional vocabulary, but also encourages a sense of agency in the face of emotion.
3. Encourage Relationship
Your child has the opportunity to be in a myriad of relationships. Encouraging these with playdates, outings, and community involvement matters. You want your child to have strong relationships with peers, caregivers, and parents.
You can build these things daily if you stay attuned.
If you're worried that your child is struggling with acute anxiety and you want to not just prevent but maybe heal - here is a post I wrote with 4 tips for managing anxiety in children.
These three easy tips to build resilience are broad but hopefully relatable. You can easily translate these to simple daily habits, with just a little coaching and a commitment to staying attuned to your child's needs. This means committing to being less engaged in your own phone, looking up, staying tuned in to your child's needs, and instituting a few easy habits. Here is a handout I put together all about the 8 Daily Habits to Build Resilient Children <<< Click here and I will email them to you. >>>