I know I have been away for a while from blog posting and being a keyboard counsellor/mum. I am back though and although the blog posts might be slow in the coming here is another!
A while ago I was asked to write something about resiliency in children. I guess you may want to know how to increase it right?
It has taken me a while to be able to bounce back from my own life difficulty. To adjust to a major life change and I don’t think in amongst that I have felt very resilient myself.
However, I am now in a better place in myself and in my work to be able to manage a whole lot more. From time to time I crumble a little (it’s OK I think this is relatively ‘normal’) and then I pick myself up and do some things that I love. I re-connect with myself, with others and I get going again. Is this resiliency?
I looked it up and it seems that in an object resiliency is ‘the ability for it to spring back into shape’…..certainly not me!
I am not the same shape I was before! I have changed….so does this mean I am not resilient? I don’t think so.
In a person it is the “capacity to recover quickly from difficulties” But is it still resilient if it didn’t happen quickly?
This is life’s journey. This is resiliency. “The ability to bounce back from adversity or set backs.”
And remember that what one person experiences as a set back will be different for another person.
If someone is mean to me I might not experience that as a set back but if someone is mean to your child they might experience that as a big set back. Just because you don’t think it is important doesn’t mean they don’t.
This is what Wikipedia says about resiliency;
Psychological resilience is the ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis or to return to pre-crisis status quickly. Resilience exists when the person uses “mental processes and behaviours in promoting personal assets and protecting self from the potential negative effects of stressors”
Personal assets doesn’t mean you use your toys, your car or your boat! Examples of personal assets are your ability to be kind to yourself, to reach out to others, your ability to feel, to cry, to yell, to self care, to calm yourself and to be able to talk, to be able to ask for what you need and to be able to accept the discomfort of sometimes not getting it.
Everyone struggles when they have personal crises and remember their experience of crises may be different to your.
It depends on a whole lot of things/skills as to how long it might take us to recover.
I don’t think recovering with speed is the issue. It depends on the set of skills ie the personal assets you may have already had and the level of support you are able to access as well as personality factors.
There seems to be a lot at play here indicating that this resiliency gig is pretty complex.
I struggle with the word ‘quickly’ and each person does need to go at thier own pace. Perhaps this is why we think we have something wrong with us when actually we are still trying to recover but recover, nonetheless.
Expectations are part of this. What is our expectation of how quickly someone should be recovering. Is this expectation reasonable? And anyway, what do people, children, need in order to be able to recover? Hmmm all good questions.
How can you help your children be more resilient?
Here is my answer:
By letting them experience life’s difficulties (this includes difficult emotions) and supporting them through it to recover, hold a knowing that they can and will recover, and that you will help them. Let them know that you know they can do it, and you will be there alongside making sure they are managing, but absolutely not always trying to make it better for them by fixing it. Fixing it for them and stopping the bad feelings is not the answer.
If your child is angry, let them be angry. Don’t shut it down, tell them off or ignore it.
What can you do?
Acknowledge it – “oh wow you are angry!” “Jeez you’re angry!”
If they have been rude to you or sworn at you – try and acknowledge the anger first. I try to respond with a really surprised face or at least a facial expression that acknowledges the severity of the emotion. The thing is, if you meet their anger with your own anger it doesn’t work as you then just enter into a power struggle. Who has the ability to get the angriest – dangerous stuff.
So, this is how we connect. By acknowledging their anger – “Wow you are angry” and then acknowledge their need. “You are really mad with me for forgetting your bag. I get that. I would feel angry about that too. I’m really sorry and I will sort it out.” (if it was your mistake, if it was theirs you can help them to sort it out).
Then once they are calm – address the rudeness, swearing or whatever it was. It doesn’t matter if it was 1 hour ago or 2 days ago but do go back and very briefly mention it. It shows them that it is important to you that they learn to handle these things better and also that they learn good healthy boundaries between anger and abuse (swearing and rudeness is abuse not anger).
An example might be:
“Hey you know the other day how when you got really mad at me for forgetting your bag……get their acknowledgement that they remember and then state the boundary
“It’s Ok to be angry with me but it’s not Ok to speak to me like that Ok. How about when you are so angry you just let me know you are so angry.”
Some kids especially younger ones need you to give them the words.”Just say Mum/Dad I’m so mad with you!!”.
This is the reasoning the logic rational stuff that should always come last if you can manage it. But remember it’s Ok to make mistakes and get it wrong!
Let them know that you know they can do it, and you will be there alongside making sure they are managing. Fixing it for them and stopping the bad feelings is not the answer.
Connect, connect, connect. I can’t say it enough.
There is a good article written by the wonderful Karen Young from Hey Sigmund that talks through what is needed in more depth.
In order to be able to connect in a way that is helpful for your child you need to be able to notice, and show you notice, when it is too much for them or too little. Therefore, it is especially important that you take the time to know your child, each child and the differences in their needs. Not your needs, their needs.
As mentioned above there are a lot of things that contribute to resiliency.
Resiliency requires one to have a set of internal resources that we primarily acquire in childhood to help us manage difficulties. This includes the ability to tolerate a level of distress or upset and have the experience of being able to get through it even though it is uncomfortable and painful place to be. Humans, especially child humans, certainly do not manage so well if we have to do this on our own. We need others, safe others, to support us, hear us, see us.
When you rescue your children from uncomfortable feelings and try to make everything great and happy for them then the message you unwittingly give your children is that discomfort, anger, sadness or upset is absolutely NOT ok and should be avoided at all costs. They cannot develop the skills for resiliency, don’t have the skills in place to navigate problems (resiliency). This is how we get sick both mentally and physically.
I recently attended some training on children’s anxiety and heard a new term “the lawnmower parent”. It is no accident that this term came up in a children’s anxiety workshop.
As opposed to the commonly known ‘helicopter parent’, the ‘lawnmower parent’ smooths the way in front of their child.
The moral of this story is to not mow the lawn in front of your child to smooth the way. We don’t want to deliberately make it harder but certainly stand back a bit and let them learn to tolerate discomfort a bit more.
When we have more resilience we have more confidence in ourselves.
I have certainly not been a hovering mother to my children, in fact I have worried that I did not perhaps supervise enough at times.
I remember moments in my parenting journey when I was highly aware there is a fine line between creating anxious kids and not showing enough care. Too much hovering and you risk sending the message that they are fragile and can’t manage; and not enough oversight and….you get the idea. Where to place yourself? This will also be impacted by your own experience of being parented and also your own levels of stress.
I think my kids have managed so well through our family stresses as well as their own individual stresses. Connection and communication have been the key alongside being there for them. Showing and using feeling words, being emotionally available to support them is also vital. At times we have all struggled within our family, and then worked through the difficulties, together.
Children who don’t talk to their parents feel less secure in the relationship and they don’t see their parents as a resource. There could be a variety of reasons for this such as trying to look after the parent or the parent literally not being safe. Security in the parent-child relationship is a whole other big issue, however in brief- part of a secure relationship is the following.
The child feeling ‘you get me’, ‘you care’, ‘I can see you are available/present’.
The bit I wrote above about acknowledging feelings goes a long way to helping with this.
And a further particularly important note to this is not shaming someone when they make mistakes, fail, feel difficult feelings, or just simply are being themselves.
Happy resiliency building with your little people! You have got this.