By Dr. Cat Baker, PhD, BCBA-D
As you know all too well, difficulties and problems are a part of life. The wonderful thing about helping your child learn to be more resilient is that you’re equipping them to better handle the vast array of complex challenges that arise in life. We can’t train them for each situation that could come up. Rather, we want to help prepare them to tackle a wide variety of circumstances. Teaching your child to be more resilient does just that. So, here is a quick introduction to a few of the key ways you can help your child to become more resilient:
1. IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM
The first step in developing and applying the strategies that support resilience is to help your child learn to recognize that they’re having a problem before they become reactive. If your child is young, one way to begin to do this is by asking them to become a detective and listen to their body. Taking the time to hone in on physiological, behavioral, and emotional cues helps to build a more mature understanding and self-awareness. Through conversation and unpacking challenges together as they arise, you can help your child learn that being able to identify when they’re feeling annoyed, frustrated, or angry puts some distance between them and an emotion. It allows them to be in charge, rather than letting the negative feelings take over.
2. RESPOND RATHER THAN REACT
Helping your child learn to respond to difficulties as they arise, rather than react to them, is a key component in building the skills tied to resilience.
Talk together about the difference between the terms. Perhaps they’ve heard of first responders. Discuss how these are the folks who show up on the scene following an emergency and lend a helping hand. They respond by offering care and solutions. They stay calm so that they can effectively handle the crisis. Next, reflect on how a first reactor might handle the same situation. They’d arrive and just start reacting to the challenge – screaming at people, lashing out, or otherwise making the problem worse rather than better.
We want to respond to the challenges that arise in our lives rather than react to them. Be sure to praise your child when you catch them doing just that. And, model this behavior as much as possible when challenges arise in your own life.
3. APPLY CALMING STRATEGIES
Another way to help your child learn to be more resilient is to help them learn to apply calming strategies. Once they’ve identified that they’re having a problem and experiencing some negative emotions, they can start to work through this step.
It’s helpful to teach a variety of calming strategies to children to help them cope with difficulties and learn to respond rather than react. Different techniques work better at some ages than others, and every kid also has their own preferences. It’s essential to teach these calming techniques, like removing yourself from the situation, doing some deep breathing, or taking a walk, outside of the moment of anger. Reminders to apply a calming strategy aren’t as effective once emotions have become overwhelming.
It’s also important to teach children how to apply these techniques in a variety of situations. The demands of different environments mean that we have to attend to our stress in lots of different ways. Taking a walk during class might help a lot, but it isn’t usually appropriate. Learning what works best in different environments is also something of a process of trial and error. Talking with your child along the way as they hone these skills supports this work.
4. IDENTIFY SOLUTIONS
One of the best things about helping your child to be more resilient is that they will identify solutions to problems more quickly and more accurately. Because they aren’t overwhelmed by the challenge at hand, they’re better able to logically step back and choose how best to proceed. It’s a wonderful thing when a child learns to identify their feelings and then apply calming strategies before responding to a challenge.
From a calm vantage point your child can now begin to think through solutions. They might try thinking about the pros and cons of various options. They should consider how an approach would impact them as well as the potential impact the choice would have on others. The essential thing here is that your child is making a decision about how to respond to a challenge rather than having a knee-jerk reaction. Be sure to recognize and reward these efforts.
When it comes to identifying solutions, it’s also important to help your child learn when it’s time to find a trusted adult. Help them learn that there are some problems they can’t solve on their own. Everyone needs a little support from someone they trust once in a while.
5. BUILD HEALTHY HABITS
It’s helpful to be aware that certain habits can have a real impact on your child’s ability to be resilient. Stress hormones have a big impact on the body and the mind. How well your child sleeps at night and whether or not they eat healthy foods regularly, for example, can make a big difference in their overall ability to be resilient when challenges arise. Be sure they’re getting plenty of exercise and time outside too. Keep in mind that having plenty of fun with family and friends on a regular basis is also crucial.
6. DEVELOP MORE SELF-AWARENESS ABOUT STRESS
Through this work, your child will build a more mature self-awareness when it comes to understanding their own stress. Gradually, they’ll learn to identify what stress is and how it impacts their ability to stay calm. Talking together about what they’re discovering along the way can be very helpful. Also, always remember to model these concepts yourself. (Talk about how you’re going for a run before you start dinner because it’s been a stressful day and you’d like to relieve some tension in a healthy way, for example.) Helping your child learn to understand how stress impacts us emotionally and physiologically is helpful in and of itself. It promotes self-awareness and increased maturity.
7. RELEASE PERFECTIONISM
A big part of learning to be more resilient is helping your child learn to forgive themselves when they make a mistake. No one is perfect, and no one responds to stress in a perfect way every time. This can’t be your child’s goal, and it shouldn’t be yours either. Instead, celebrate progress and release the idea of perfection. If your child is moving in the right direction in terms of responding rather than reacting, then they’re doing a great job. Helping them learn to acknowledge and celebrate their victories, even though things may not always be going perfectly, is an essential step in building their ability to be resilient.
Keep in mind that it takes time and practice to learn to work with these techniques and strategies in your home. Florida Children’s Institute is always here to help, either in person or virtually!
Want more strategies? Check out 7 Tips for Helping Kids Learn from their Mistakes! We also think you’ll love Brain Breaks for Parenting Self-Care.
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