Promoting Resilience

As parents, we try and protect our children and keep them safe from physical, emotional and psychological harm.  Sometimes however, our children experience things which can be potentially harmful to their psychological development. This may be in relation to themselves or others that they are connected to.  These include trauma, violence, changes in family circumstances, physical illness or bereavement, accidents, disability, parents’ loss of regular income, social difficulties, changes in school etc.  In this piece, we are considering what makes one child cope better than another, and how come two children who experience a similar trauma for example, respond completely differently.  The answer lies in their general resilience, which will affect their perception of the event and how it affects their perception of themselves and their world.

In research that I have conducted regarding the effects of divorce on a child’s level of adjustment and self- esteem, it was clear that the factors that consistently predicted positive outcome for a child’s psychological wellbeing is their level of resilience.  Resilience is important for children as it can help a child to adjust to and possibly even be strengthened by adversity.

How we respond when our child experiences difficulty, and how we help them, will have a significant impact on how resilient they are. Children’s resilience is promoted by their experience of support within safe relationships, their view of themselves and their confidence in their ability to cope when faced with difficulties.

Although promoting resilience involves a complex interplay of factors, and children need different support at different developmental stages I will attempt to provide an overview of some of the factors that promote resilience.  The language and way that we implement these will vary according to the child’s age, maturity and level of development.  Many of these factors are intuitive and some may be less obvious.  This is not intended to be an exhaustive checklist, but rather an exercise in being aware of what we as parents do on a daily basis that directly or indirectly promotes our child’s resilience.

Some ideas of how we can promote resilience in our children:

  • Although you obviously love your child, you should be mindful of helping your child to feel Lovable and have a sense of attachment.  Demonstrate unconditional love and tell them you love them and show them through special time and time spent engaging with them.
  • Encourage a Sense of Belonging within the family, socially and within the community.  This promotes resilience and helps children to feel part of something greater than themselves.
  • Provide Trusting Relationships where they know that they can count on you no matter what happens and that you are there to support them and are able to handle their difficult feelings.
  • Be a resilient Role Model. Model resilience to your children by demonstrating appropriate behaviour when you are facing challenges such as interpersonal problems, conflict and difficulties.  Model allowing yourself to ask for help, and do your best to demonstrate courage, confidence, optimism, and self-esteem;
  • Have Structure and Rules at home. Have clear rules and boundaries and have appropriate consequences for when these are challenged.  Fair and appropriate boundaries give your child a sense of predictability and will help your child to feel emotionally safe.
  • Help your child to feel Proud of themselves. Praise them (genuinely) for accomplishments such as finishing a puzzle or reading a book and for desired behaviours such as putting toys away or expressing his or her anger without throwing a tantrum;
  • Encourage Independence and Autonomy, but providing help where appropriate.  Encouraging their independence gives them a sense of their own competence and this is important in times of difficulty;
  • Encourage them to Manage their Emotions and Impulses by helping them to learn to recognize and label their own feelings as well as those of others.  Teach your child constructive ways of expressing their feelings, particularly their angry and worried feelings;
  • Preparation and discussion about things that may be happening which require them to be resilient.  It is important to find the balance between preparing them and making them more anxious by over-preparing them.
  • Encourage your child to demonstrate empathy and caring, to be pleasant and do nice things for others.  This will foster a sense of competency and empathy in them;
  • Encourage your child to use communication and problem-solving skills to resolve interpersonal problems or to seek help with them;
  • Communicate with your child, which includes discussing, sharing, and reporting on the day’s events, ideas, observations, and feelings;
  • Help your child to begin to accept responsibility for his or her own behaviour and to understand that his or her actions have consequences.
  • Instil a sense of Hope.  Help them to accept errors and failures while providing a space to explore difficulties and guidance toward improvement;
  • Give your child Comfort and encouragement in stressful situations;
  • Encourage and Model Flexibility in selecting different resilience factors as a response to an adverse situation, for example, seek help instead of continuing alone in a very difficult situation; show empathy instead of continuing with anger or fear or share feelings with a friend instead of continuing to suffer alone.

Children need to become resilient to overcome the many adversities they face and will face in life and they cannot do it alone. They need adults who know how to promote resilience and are intent on becoming more resilient themselves.  Most often children will cope if they have an experience of the above factors most of the time.  Occasionally, in various circumstances, a child or parent may need professional support and guidance in handling difficulties and their consequent impact on a child’s ability to cope, their view of themselves or their world.  In these instances, it is important to model resilience by seeking help should you or your child need it.