Resilient Children Become Emotionally Healthy Adults
This past year, the pandemic caused our children’s lives to be turned upside down. They could no longer see their friends, grandparents, or teachers. In addition, all their group activities being put on hold. They were expected to learn how to navigate computers and participate in virtual meetings for school and seeing friends or family. Their homes became their only space for everything: learning, playing, relaxing, and entertainment. Things like birthdays and vacations looked different and were canceled. Parents were home more but trying to navigate all the newness of adjusting to work from home, planning/cooking every meal, keeping everyone healthy, and maintaining their own mental health—some lost family members and friends to illness. Frontline parents were working long hours and worried about spreading a new illness to their families. WOW!! That’s a list! And that’s not even all that these children have been through! It will be interesting to interview them in 15 years and see how they viewed this time; ask them what they learned and what they most remember. As a mother and mental health practitioner, I hope that they report feelings of safety, connectedness and learned how to be flexible (open-minded) in times of disruption.
What is resilience?
Unfortunately, many general practitioners, mental health professionals, and teachers continue to see a rise in anxiety and depression due to the situation previously described. Nobody was ready to deal with this, especially not children. The pandemic’s start was traumatic and continues to be traumatic as we continue in the “not-knowing” and unpredictability of its future. But humans are known to be resilient! As parents, a common worry is how we can help children cope with the stress and adversity that the pandemic has brought on. This is what resilience is: navigating and bouncing back after experiencing a setback or difficult situation. We often hear “children are resilient,” and they definitely have shown us that they are, but this is a skill that can be supported and taught by parents and educators. We can help them build their “resilience muscle” by teaching and demonstrating coping skills and loving and supporting them to feel safe and connected to loving adults.
Having coping skills is a foundational tool to experiencing a difficult situation and coming out on the other side with insight, new skills, and possibly a new perspective. Some of these coping strategies include having an open mindset, handling unpleasant feelings (sadness, anger, fear), and not getting discouraged when faced with failure. It is guaranteed that everyone will experience failures. By parents modeling positive coping skills (such as positive self-talk, taking deep breaths, or a time out), children will see that failure or unexpected experiences happen in life. This pandemic has provided parents many times to practice (and model) their own coping skills, and hopefully, our children are watching and learning!
Forming strong connections with adults and peers helps children feel safe. When children feel safe, they are more likely to take risks and test their boundaries and limits. Adults that know how to find support and help when needed demonstrate healthy emotional responses during trying times. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson discuss the importance of secure attachment in “The Power of Showing Up” to help children have the opportunity to take risks and attempt to problem solve in difficult situations. Securely attached children are more willing to step into new situations as they know they have a “safe harbor” to turn to if they need support or guidance.
The pandemic has resulted in a lot of us having more time with our children. This can be an opportunity to spend 15-20 minutes a day connecting with them. (Seriously, it really can only be that amount of time…it doesn’t need to be elaborate or time intense.) By providing one-on-one attention to our children, responding to them with intrigue (as opposed to opposition), and supporting them to trust themselves, parents can help build their child’s resilience. This will continue to build on itself as they encounter more obstacles throughout childhood and on into adulthood.