Research continues to suggest that strong attachments with adults, especially caregivers/parents, are extremely important protective factors for little ones when faced with stress and challenges. Taking time to connect with your child, even just to check-in with them, is essential in the development of resilience. Your child will feel more confident in their ability to face challenges knowing that they are unconditionally loved and have a strong support network to help them should they need it.
We can best help our children by being consistently present in their lives and modeling a calm approach to problem solving daily stressors. It is also our job to be responsive to the needs of our children. Interacting with our little ones in this way allows them to focus on growing and learning instead of on staying safe and ensuring their needs are met. For example, a child who feels safe because of their warm home environment will be better able to learn their ABC’s as their attention will not be focused on managing fears or anxieties or worries about getting their basic needs met.
Not only is your bond with your child an important factor in building resilience, but connections within the community (e.g., social groups, community organizations, churches, schools, etc.) are also protective for little ones. Participation and involvement in community organizations enhance a child’s sense of belonging and importance and helps them develop their sense of identity.
Devise a Plan
Helping your child plan and prepare for new, unknown, uncertain, or unsettling situations can be helpful in developing resiliency as it instills confidence in your child. A child who knows what to expect can prepare for how they will manage what might come (or we can help them learn how to prepare). This is developing a key executive function for children–planning – which has been linked to numerous positive outcomes in the academic, social, emotional, behavior, and cognitive functioning of children.
Allow Opportunities for Mastery
Creating opportunities for your child to show what they know, or what they can do, builds confidence. Confident kids are more likely to feel that they can handle any challenge they may face. If you know your child can do something, let them do it…even if it takes them longer to do it than it would for you to do it for them!
Modeling persistence for your child in the face of something challenging, frustrating, or anxiety provoking is essential for developing resilience. It is normal for our children (and us!) to feel nervous or frustrated, but we must not avoid situations that are challenging. If your child exhibits a fear, try again at a later time, re-introduce anxiety provoking objects and situations (that should not be fearful for your child-you wouldn’t want to re-introduce a traumatic experience for your child in which stress was the appropriate response). For example, Dr. Allie’s son received a baby basketball hoop toy when he was six months old…and he hated it! He was so fearful of the toy. So what did we do? We left the toy at the edge of his playmat. We played with it and let him watch. We did not tell him not to be afraid, and we did not minimize the fear he felt. We showed him that it was okay. We modeled facing a fear. The same concept can apply to facing frustrating or challenging situations, such as homework.
The ability to problem solve is a key skill for resilient kids. Resilient little ones are able to think of a plan B (and maybe even a plan C) when plan A does not work out. They are able to shift their approach to fit the situation. For some children, problem solving seems to be innate, but other children need some coaching to get started. First, help your child state the problem. Then help them brainstorm possible solutions. Ask them what they think might work to solve the problem. Help your child weigh the options and encourage them to make a choice. You may have to provide more support at first, but slowly allow your child to take the lead!
We talk a lot about emotion regulation, and that is because a child who is able to regulate their emotions is much better equipped to navigate new and challenging situations. Helping your child to identify emotions, that is naming their emotions, is the first step to regulating their emotions. Then help your child find a set of tools that work for them to cope with big (and even little) emotions. Check out some of our favorite coping strategies here in our previous post on tantrums.
Development of Values
Resilient children all seem to have a set of a guiding morals, values, ethics and/or beliefs. Talking through difficult situations with your child is one way to instill a sense of right and wrong. It is also important to share your beliefs, family traditions, culture, and values with your children. This creates a compass for them to guide their behavior and a sense of hope in difficult times.