By Elizabeth Martinich, LCSW-C, Bullis Lower School Counselor
Wow. What a year and a half it has been. The stressors from COVID-19 have brought a life of uncertainty and fear about health, school, work, social gatherings - basically everything! Let’s take a moment to acknowledge and honor all that we have gotten through. These challenges have given our kids the opportunity to practice their resiliency and coping skills, and watch adults practice and model how to be resilient. Now is a great time to reflect with our children and discuss the resilience we have all shown in the face of adversity.
What is resilience?
Resilience is the ability to cope with or adapt to stress and challenges. One thing I’ve heard time and time again during this pandemic is, “The kids are managing. It’s not great, but we’re hanging in there.” This is resilience! You don’t have to thrive in adversity in order to show resilience. Resilience is finding a way to make it through tough times. Fostering resilience from an early age will not only help children deal with current challenges, but develop the skills to deal with future challenges later in life.
Why developing resilience is important
As we know, life will always bring new challenges and hardships. As parents, we sometimes try to protect our children from adversity and hardship by “removing” the challenge in front of them. This is detrimental to our children. By doing so, we unintentionally send the message that, “You cannot handle this, so let me do it.” As a result, children often experience increased anxiety and lower self-esteem. Resist solving their problems for them. Allow your children the space to explore potential problem solving skills and come up with their own solutions - this is part of the learning and development process. A lot of the challenges in life will be out of their control, but we can teach and show our children that they have control of their response. Remember - working through challenges (not avoiding them) builds resilience.
Three ways to help your child build resilience
There are many ways to help build resilience in children and I’m going to focus on three: identifying strengths, connections with adults, and healthy coping skills.
Teach your children that they have strengths. Talk honestly and make a list of strengths together. Does your child show empathy, creativity, patience, gratitude, kindness, thoughtfulness, bravery, or determination? In your daily lives, make a note to highlight these strengths. By doing so, we’re giving the message, “When you use your strengths, you can do tough things!”
Next, you can attach specific examples when your children use their strengths. For example, “You have shown so much resiliency. Even though this year was so different, you found a way to use your patience and creativity. I know that P.E. was not as fun in the classroom, but I remember the funny stories you told me about crab walking around your desk and doing sit-ups on the circle time carpet. I’m so proud of your determination to make it through this rough year.”
Research shows that children greatly benefit from the unconditional love, consistency, and care provided by parents. These connections can be with teachers, coaches, and other adults as well. A responsive adult can provide reassurance of safety, establish routines in daily living (eating, sleeping, playing, learning, etc), and assist in regulating the big emotions children may feel. Additionally, a strong connection with an adult provides security when a child experiences physiological changes activated by stress (which happens during difficult and traumatic events). Children benefit from knowing a loving adult is always available to listen and explore difficult times.
Remind your children that asking for help, when needed, is not a sign of weakness, but instead is a sign of strength. Parents can find ways to assist and guide their children without rescuing them. Take this opportunity to share examples of situations when they have needed support and the people who provided it.
Healthy Coping Skills
Teach your children the importance of taking care of themselves, in good times and bad. Encourage and model healthy sleeping patterns, eating habits, exercising, limited technology use, mindfulness practices, exploring nature, reading, drawing or journaling, and positive self-talk.
Some examples of positive self-talk are:
- “I can do hard (or tough) things”
- “I am strong”
- “I will find a way”
- “I’ve got this”
- “I will keep trying”
- Or if they need some encouragement, try telling your children:
- “You’ve got this”
- “You can handle anything”
- “I believe in you”
You can pick a statement, write it on an index card, and tape it to the bathroom mirror. Every morning, you and your children can recite your positive statement before you start your day.
Book ideas to start discussions
Books are another great way to start conversations about resiliency. You and your child can explore:
- How does the character show resilience?
- What strengths do the characters show?
- Does anyone support/help the character?
- Would you have done something similar or different?
Below are some books for elementary school children that explore resilience:
And always remember...we are resilient and we can do tough things!
Liz Martinich, LCSW-C, is the Lower School Counselor at Bullis School. She is a Licensed Certified Social Worker – Clinical (LCSW-C) in the state of Maryland, a Maryland Board Approved Supervisor (since 2011), and has been a therapist for over 15 years in both the school and private practice settings. In her free time, she loves practicing yoga, hiking with her husband and three kids, and reading non-fiction.
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