Promoting resilience in your child
by Denise Allen
Stress Free Youth
Resilience refers to an individuals ability to prevent, minimize or overcome the damaging affects of trauma or adversity. It gives an individual the capacity to face adversity, and even be strengthened by the traumas in life that we all inevitably face. The International Resilience Project found that some of the most common adversities that children face include: death of parents and grandparents, divorce or separation of parents, illness, moving away from family or friends, robbery and having a disabled family member.
I was watching a group of young children from different families playing in a park. The slippery dip was quite new and the surface was very slippery. One child came down rather fast, landed hard, burst into tears and ran off seeking parental comfort. A second child also came down fast and landed hard. He sat thoughtfully for a moment, then picked himself up rubbing his bottom and headed off to the swings to play.
What factors allowed the second child to overcome the slippery dip trauma? What makes one child more resilient, and how can parents promote this in their child? Indeed you can probably think of a friend who seems to navigate life's traumas on an even keel and another friend whose coping balance is easily tipped. A resilient child stands a strong chance of growing into a resilient adult.
The International Resilience Project identified three main sources of resilience. The first was called the I HAVE - the external supports and resources available to the child that lay the foundation for a sense of security and safety. The second source is the I AM - the child's internal, personal strengths, the feelings, attitudes and beliefs within the child. The third source of resilience is the I CAN - the child's interpersonal and social skills, the skills learnt through interaction and communication.
The resilient child is more likely to say:
- People around me I trust, who support me emotionally and who love me unconditionally
- A set of rules and routines and I understand the consequences of breaking these
- People who demonstrate to me the right way to do things and the right way to behave
- People who encourage me to learn to do things on my own and to seek help when I need it
- People who help me when I am sick, in danger or need to learn
- Lovable and people like me
- A caring person and I am glad to do nice things for others
- An important person and proud of things I have done
- Willing to be responsible for what I do
- Sure things will be all right. I have a sense of hope, faith and trust
- Express my thoughts and feelings to others and tell them about things that frighten me or bother me
- Find ways to solve problems that I face
- Control my moods and behaviour to avoid doing something that is not right or dangerous
- Find someone to ask for help when I need it
At different ages children rely on different sources for building resilience. Younger children tend to rely more on the I HAVE sources, the external sources based within the family and care givers, but as age increases children rely more and more on internal sources of resilience, the I AM and the I CAN, building and strengthening their own internal sources of resilience.
Through understanding what resilience is, parents and care givers can provide specific opportunities and activities to promote resilience in their child. The following is a list of activities that parents can provide to develop resilience in their child:
- Providing unconditional love and emotional support and expressing this both verbally and physically
- Providing clear rules and routines and enforcing these rules. Make sure the limits and consequences of behaviour are understood. Use the removal of privileges and other forms of discipline that do not belittle, harm or reject the child.
- When the rules have been broken help the child to understand what they did wrong and offer reconciliation along with discipline and understanding
- Model behaviour that you would like the child to display
- Praise your child for good behaviour and accomplishments
- Encourage your child to try things and do things on their own with minimal adult help. Praise your child when they show initiative and autonomy
- As your child's language is developing, acknowledge and label your child's feelings
- Encourage them to express their feelings and recognise other people's feelings
- Develop problem solving by encouraging you child to assess the scope and nature of the problem and develop a plan to tackle it. Praise persistence
- Encourage your child to be empathic, to be caring and carry out thoughtful acts for others
- Take time to talk with your child about the day's events, their ideas, observations and feelings
- Accept errors and failures while guiding your child toward improvement
- Encourage your child to use communication to solve interpersonal problems. Model this behaviour when opportunities arise
- Help your child to accept responsibility for their behaviour and understand the consequences for their actions
- Provide opportunities to practice dealing with adversities through exposure to manageable adversities. Resist the temptation to deal with adversities for them but offer support
- Encourage your child to share and discuss issues, feelings, expectations and problems
Resilience is a complex concept and develops through the interaction of a number of factors. A child's genetic makeup and temperament also play a role in the development of resilience. Children vulnerable to anxiety and stress can find it more difficult to cope with adversity and may need to learn strategies to offset this tendency to be sensitive and worrisome. Parents and caregivers of anxious children should encourage their children to learn relaxation and seek help with teaching their child to manage stress and learn cognitive restructuring and the use of realistic thinking strategies for anxious situations.
About the author
Denise Allen is an Occupational Therapist with over 20 years experience working in both hospital and community settings. Over the last 7 years she has specialised in providing stress management, relaxation and counselling for children, adolescents and young adults. She had produced 2 relaxation CD's. Cool Karma was created for adolescents and young adults and Butterfly Dreaming was created for children. For more information, visit her web site at Stress Free Youth
Published: February 2006
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