How to Raise Resilient Kids
This post is the first in a 3 part series on Resilience. In Part 1, we are talking about building resilience in kids. Part 2 about becoming a resilient parent, and Part 3 is how to deal with those times a crisis or tragedy strikes and how to call upon our resilience muscle to cope.
I was in the 6th grade on the campus of the University of Houston and I felt like my heart was beating out of my chest. My neck was stiff, my body trembling, I was sure I was going to pass out. It was my first solo band competition and my first panic attack.
As parents, we naturally move into action to help our children avoid distress or try to make it go away as quickly as possible. Please stop. Please don’t try to fix it. Please don’t try to make it go away. What should you do?
My childhood was tough, and my parents ill-equipped. They definitely had no idea how to support a kid with anxiety. But I have certain powerful moments that stick with me. Times my parents were able to connect with me and help me become more resilient without even knowing that what they were doing was powerful. This band competition was one of those moments. Instead of dismissing my feelings or telling me to calm down, my dad began to massage my neck. He didn't say anything. He just connected. And through that action what I heard was, "You are safe. We are here. Yes, this is hard, but you can do this."
Help your kids build their resilience muscle.
Stress and crises are a regular part of human life. You and I deal with stress, and so do children. You and I have experienced numerous high-stress events throughout our lives as will your children. It’s part of the human experience.
Stress is productive.
Anxiety alerts us to a potential threat and helps us take action. Anger warns us of injustice and energizes us. Sorrow allows us to feel compassion for others and ourselves. Remorse helps us self-correct and examine our values and other’s perspectives. In fact, when we are resilient, we reach an optimal peak level of stress and then move into a period of recovery which is beneficial for our brain and body. The problem occurs when we get stuck in a state of chronic stress or vigilance.
The old model of stress: Tally up the number of stressors you have experienced in the last 12 months, and you have your stress level and your likelihood of illness in the near future.
Specific events in life, even positive ones such as getting married and taking a vacation are considered stressors. Each stressor has a value and adding up your total gives you a picture of your health. Yes, getting married does cause a level of stress (been there, done that). The problem with this model is that it does not account for the degree of stress experienced, how quickly the person recovered, or that what is stressful for some is less stressful for others.
The new model of stress: We are not victims of circumstances, we can rally resources and change the meaning of an event, situation, or problem by changing how we think about it.
Ruben Hill, a family scientist, developed the ABC-X model of stress. He proposes that it is not the events themselves but rather the stressful event (A) + our resources (B) + how we perceive the event (C) = level of stress experienced (X). This model accounts for the fact that we have control over how we think about an event and we have resources (and the ability to grow our resources) to call upon during a stressful event.
Resilience comes from the accumulation of resources we have to help us bounce back from the stressful situation.
Resilience is something you can develop. Resilience is for every day of your life, not just for surviving your worst days. When we are resilient, we can cope with adversity and push through challenges in the pursuit of opportunities. Isn’t that really what we want for our children? Not to shelter them from pain and fix things for them, but to give them the strength, the muscle, to overcome obstacles? If we help our children build resilience every single day, their stress-tolerance threshold increases helping them persist in difficult times.
Stacking the Scale to Promote Resilience
“One way to understand the development of resilience is to visualize a balance scale or seesaw. Protective experiences and coping skills on one side counterbalance significant adversity on the other. Resilience is evident when a child’s health and development tips toward positive outcomes — even when a heavy load of factors is stacked on the negative outcome side. Over time, the cumulative impact of positive life experiences and coping skills can shift the fulcrum’s position, making it easier to achieve positive outcomes.” -Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University
What Makes Resilient Kids?
Grit & Determination
Motivation & Perseverance
Compassion & Kindness
Humor & a Zest for Life
Love of Learning
Fairness & Social Responsibility
Curiosity & Openness
Humility & Forgiveness
At Least One Supportive, Caring Adult
A Resilient Parent
Relationships and Community
A Support System (friends, family, mentors, counselors, teachers)
Positive School Environment
A Sense of Self-Efficacy and Perceived Control
Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence/Awe/Wonder
How Can I Build Resilience in My Child?
Remember, it is not the events themselves but rather the stressful event (A) + our resources (B) + how we perceive the event (C) = level of stress experienced (X).
We can not control what happens to us (A). We can only control how we think about it (C) and what tools we have to help us (B)
The first way to help your child be resilient is by stacking the resources listed above.
Practice problem-solving in real life situations.
Know your child (and their temperament) and plan for triggers.
Encourage new point’s of view, question motives, and people’s behavior.
Create personally motivating goals.
Visit and build on positive memories and small successes.
Create a safe environment that encourages communication and listening.
Streamline and simplify life with routines and clear, unambiguous boundaries.
The second way to build resilience in your child is to help them view problems as challenges.
If we change our perspective of problems and the meaning and thoughts attached to them, they turn into interesting situations, good stories, new beginnings, opportunities for growth. I've created a free workbook to help change your child's mindset about problems.
Challenges help us:
Make sense of our life experiences and purpose.
Evaluate our values and goals.
Bring us closer to others.
Allows for greater compassion.
Helps us value and appreciate the simple things in life.
Helps us refocus our priorities.
Promotes growth and can become a strength.
Can inspire ourselves and others.
Make sure to download the free workbook to help your child change their perspective on stressful events. And in the comments below, let me know what questions come to mind when reading this! Most importantly, share this with others to help fill the world with resilient kids!