Children need to be resilient in today’s world given there is so much stress, hardship, and pressure. In order to cope with every day stress, it is important for parents to foster resiliency in children by being sensitive to their needs and guiding them in a way that they can effectively deal with disappointments, setbacks, adversity and become better problem solvers. Two children respond differently to the same stress due to the way they were brought up. For example, if a child is not able to learn a sport, he might throw tantrums, yell, and scream in the face of failure if he does not know how to deal with anger and frustration. On the other hand, a child who is resilient will demonstrate better problem solving skills and ask the coach to help him with his stroke so that he can strike better as opposed to screaming, yelling and throwing tantrums. The question is how do parents interact with children so they can instill resiliency in their children. It begins early in the developmental stages of the child.
Parents need to follow the guidepost for nurturing inner strength and optimism in their children in order to promote a resilient mindset. Some of these guideposts are listed below.
This is a key element in any relationship. It is the capacity to be in your child’s shoes and feel the emotions that the child is feeling and see the world through the child’s eyes. Empathy implies the capacity to appreciate and validate your child’s point of view. Children can learn to develop empathy when they interact with adults who model it on a daily basis. Children test our empathy when we are angry, upset or disappointed and we may say or do things that will back fire against developing a resilient child. In order to show empathy, it is important to use “I” statements and reflect on the feelings of the child. For example,” I understand how you feel when you cannot solve your puzzle but here is how you do it”. By making these reflective statements, you give a message to children that you understand how they feel rather than lecturing, denying their feelings, and giving a directive. In order to strengthen empathy, it is important for parents to understand how they would feel if someone said that to them. In other words, put yourself in the child’s shoes and feel the emotions. Also, the words parents say can form an impression on the young child and they might begin to perceive them as mean persons. Think about how your child would describe you and how closely does it match your hope? Children begin to judge their parents by the kind of interaction you have with them and it is not productive to give an impression of a person who is not able to understand how the child feels. So always reflect on the feelings before you set limits to the child. Positive feedback to reinforce good behaviors is equally important so that you are perceived as someone who is appreciative of the child, as opposed to a person, who is always setting limits and saying “no”.
Active Listening and Communicating Effectively
Sometimes parents adopt an accusatory attitude and demean their children when they fail or are unable to master a task. By doing so, you counteract with the development of your child’s resilient mind set. Parents are the role model for their children and they need to learn to communicate their feelings and thoughts effectively to their children. When parents focus too much on the shortcomings of their children rather than on strengths, it does not help in the long run. Therefore parents need to demonstrate active listening, understanding and validating what the child is attempting to say to avoid power struggles. Parents also need to respect the dignity of the child by refraining from using absolute terms like, ‘never’, “always”, interrupting your child, or telling the child how they should feel. Also they need to avoid communicating in overly critical and demanding fashion. When parents are always operating on the ego state of authoritarian parent, they are more likely to make these mistakes and this will adversely affect the development of the resilient mind set of the child. It is also important for the parents to convey and teach respect, foster realistic expectations, help children solve problems, nurture empathy and compassion. Additionally, parents need to promote self discipline, and self control. Parents should try to set, limits in a way that permit the child to learn from them rather than resenting them. Additionally, parents need to validate what children are saying, value their opinion and input and teach them that mistakes and obstacles are part of the learning process of growing. Parents also need to model by acknowledging their mistakes and apologizing when indicated.
Modify Ineffective Disciplinary Strategies As Needed For Optimal Effectiveness
Sometimes parents continue the same strategy that does not work for a very long period even though it is ineffective. That does not work in practical life. When a strategy is not working, it is important to change it. This does not mean giving in to the child or failing to hold the child accountable. It only indicates that the parents have the insight and courage to consider an alternative option to avoid useless and counterproductive power struggle. It also gives a message to the child that there are alternative ways to solve problems and they learn to become more flexible and more adept at handling difficult situations.
Demonstrate Love and Appreciation
Children appreciate when they get special times from the parents like going to the park, story time, participation in fun games and sports and recreational outings. They keep these memories and this helps establishing a positive rapport with the parents. When parents create these special occasions, it gives them a special meaning and they begin to establish credibility in their parents. It is good to spend some quality time with your children and give them the undivided, exclusive attention when you are not interrupted by phone calls etc. It is also equally beneficial to spend some family time with children in order to create a sense of belonging and love. Sharing holiday meals, playing games, attending community activities as a family, or taking walk together all facilitate a special bond and provide opportunities to convey love and help your child feel special.
Accept your Children for Who They Are and Set Realistic Expectations
In order to keep the self esteem of the child intact, it is important for parents to set realistic expectations and goals. When parents have their own expectations of how they want their children to be, they begin to impose them on their children even if it is unrealistic, given the unique qualities of the child. This can create a sense of disappointment and the child can sense it in his interaction with the parents. Accept your child for who he or she is. Acceptance does not mean that parents can excuse the inappropriate behavior but rather understand the behavior and help to modify without affecting the child’s self esteem.
Identify your Child’s Areas of Strength and Competence
Each child is born with some areas of competence and strength and parents need to identify and nurture them. Sometimes children who have low self esteem feel hopeless and parents feel that their positive feedback is not working so they begin to withdraw the positive feedback. Parents need to recognize when children lack self-worth. They need to continue giving them the positive feedback and understand that children become more resilient when they experience success and realize that others are appreciating them. Parents need to nurture the areas of strength rather than overemphasizing the child’s weakness. When children discover their strengths, they are more willing to confront problems and become resilient.
Teach your Children to Realize that Mistakes Create Learning Opportunities
Resilient children understand that mistakes are part of growing up and they learn from them. On the other hand, children who are not resilient take mistakes as their failures and inability to cope with stressors. Because of having a pessimistic view, they learn to avoid and withdraw from problems. As parents, we need to teach the child that it is okay to make mistakes from an early stage. They can also model and help them understand how to learn from a mistake and not repeat the same thing. If you blame others for your problems and show your anger and frustration, children will learn from you how to act in the face of adversity and failures. They also begin to have self defeating attitude towards mistakes. Parents also need to refrain from making demeaning remarks like, “You are always acting before thinking”,” Were you not using your brains?” Such remarks hurt the self esteem of the child. When children make mistakes, engage in a conversation and help them see what alternatives they can take when the situation arises again.
Teach your Children to Make a Contribution
When parents are involved in doing community service, and helping a charitable cause, children learn from them and are more likely to do these things as adults. They become more responsible, caring and compassionate when they help others. When parents get them involved in such acts, they communicate trust in them and faith in their ability to handle a variety of tasks. It is a good idea to tell your children that you need their help rather than giving them directives. Charitable acts like walk to raise money to feed the poor, or any other noble cause, will facilitate the resiliency of children. Parental lectures do not teach them responsibility and compassion.
There are many other strategies to help your child become resilient, but basically the above ideas are very crucial.
In summary, parents need to teach children to become good problem solvers and be able to make their decision. Children with high self esteem believe they control their destiny and believe that they have the ability to make decisions and solve problems. They can think of options, consider different solutions and learn from the outcome. Parents also need to use discipline to promote self control and self worth. How you discipline the child can affect the child’s self esteem, self control and resiliency. Parents should catch their children doing things right and provide positive feedback liberally. Children crave the attention of their parents. It makes more sense to provide this attention for positive rather than negative behaviors. Well timed positive feedback, words of encouragement and love are more valuable to children’s self esteem and resilience than stars and stickers. When children feel loved and appreciated, and they get encouragement from the parents, they are less likely to engage in negative behaviors. Parents also need to be proactive rather than reactive and work as a parental team. They need to be consistent and rely on natural and logical consequences. Nurturing resilience is a life long gift parents can offer to their children. Having unconditional love and providing children with opportunities that reinforce their areas of strength will promote self worth and dignity.
Reference:The Parents’ Guide to Psychological First Aid by Gerald P. Koocher, Ph.D and Annette M. LA Greca, Ph.D; Chapter on Raising Resilient Children by Robert B Brooks, and Sam Goldstein.