Monday, September 14, 2020

Parenting Pointers: Building Resilience in Kids

 Going back to school can be stressful for children in the best of times, but a global pandemic can cause children and parents to worry about both the unknowns of what to expect -- as well as the loss of what was expected. Many US children have not interacted in person with their classmates in months.

Whether a child is returning in person or virtually, their perceived (and real) experience of distance can create feelings of emotional disconnect, making it challenging to return to class with a sense of belonging and inclusion. That feeling of distance may be underscored when students are expected to wear masks and maintain physical distance at all times, including during breaks and lunch. Emotions can fluctuate, especially if a child is hearing more about reasons to be distressed than to build resilience.

It’s important to remember that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times, but like all things these feelings are temporary and will change. A parent's daily care and support are the constants they can count on. Author Rayne Lacko is an advocate for the arts as a form of social and emotional well-being and the author of DREAM UP NOW, the Teen Journal for Self-Discovery and A SONG FOR THE ROAD. She shares three keys to managing children's return to school emotions:

  1. Ask questions to build resilience
  2. Leverage change to feel connected
  3. Celebrate courage
I had a chance to interview her to learn more.

Why is it important for parents to help their kids build resilience and courage?

Building resilience equips children to experience positive outcomes in the face of significant adversity. The more resilient a person is, the less they experience stress when dealing with life’s pressures. Building resilience in children helps them to overcome obstacles more easily and decreases the chance of anxiety or other stress-related disorders.

2.      How can questions help kids build resilience?

According to Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child, the single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult. In supportive adult-child relationships, the caring adult can improve their child’s belief about his/her/their ability to complete a particular task, and their sense of control by asking open-ended questions that indicate a loving interest in the child’s authentic self.

To put this more simply, when we as parents accept our children for who they are, and encourage them to build a future based on their passions, interests and unique talents, we help them achieve more positive outcomes, and more self-trust and self-acceptance. We can do this by asking questions about the future they most want to see. We can also ask questions that lead to our child’s vision of a desired outcome, giving them a chance to move from complaining about the status quo to actively envisioning a brighter future. Creating a vision of ourselves succeeding is proven to increase desired outcomes—just ask Olympic athletes. The more we avoid obstacles, the more likely our child will begin to doubt their own ability. We must move closer to embracing what we most want for our future.

3.      What are some ways parents can use change in their lives to help kids feel connected?

Change is a constant—and change is a gift. One easy way to feel more connected is to start from an end desire and work backwards. You can do this with your child by envisioning a goal, perhaps an outing to a park with a friend or grandparent. Then, going backwards, think about all the steps necessary to complete that goal. Once you have arrived at what’s needed to make the park the date happen, commit to following through. Doing this can be incredibly bonding—when two or more people share a goal and work toward achieving it together, the shared reward is compounded.

This process is easy for kids to understand, and applies to all sorts of goals. On a large scale, you and your child can define today how you want your future to look by making a set of goals that are important to you. Then, moving backwards from the vision of your desired future, figure out the steps for achieving each goal. Using this simple model, you are equipping your child to leverage the power of change, by showing how they can create the life they want to live simply by taking one step at a time toward their desired future. If they choose not to use this model, then their future will still change from what it looks like today, because change is inevitable. But it’s less likely to be the way they want if they don’t set the goals they personally desire.

4.     How can parents help their kids balance grieving the loss of things that have changed with looking forward to what might be better?

As mentioned in the method above, “looking forward to what might be better” is certainly achievable, especially with your help in completing each goal. That said, grief is natural, and part of building resilience. It is vital to allow your child to express their feelings about their loss. Dream Up Now has a special chapter for addressing the journey from feeling loss, to letting go. It is helpful for your child to find creative means to release their grief, whether it’s by painting or drawing, movement or dance, or creating a small ceremony or ritual that honors the memory of what was lost—even if it’s the temporary passing of team sports or band practice. The grief is real and can be respected as such.

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