- Our children are facing a number of traumatic events and adversities.
- Helping your child build resiliency skills can make a difference in their overall outlook and wellness in moving past such events.
- Connection, wellness, healthy thinking, and meaning-making are components that can support your child in overcoming traumatic events.
Like tiny seeds with potent power to push through tough ground and become mighty trees, we hold innate reserves of unimaginable strength. We are resilient.–Catherine DeVrye, The Gift of Nature: Inspiring Hope and Resilience
What Is Resiliency?
Resiliency is the ability to skillfully and intentionally navigate through adversity to allow one to overcome, adapt, and grow. According to Dr. Rick Hanson, resiliency requires that one’s basic needs of safety, satisfaction, and connection are met through responsive means (Hanson & Hanson, 2018). Some argue that it is an innate characteristic, but resiliency is actually a set of skills that can be developed through education, reflection, and practice.
Why Strengthen Resiliency in Children and Adolescents
Children and adolescents who are resilient tend to: (a) be more academically, socially, and morally successful, (b) have a stronger sense of self, (c) avoid engaging in unhealthy risky behaviors, and (d) have a healthier emotional and mental outlook.
Tedeschi et al. (1998) originated the term “post-traumatic growth” (PTG) to describe the positive psychological change that happens in the aftermath of trauma. PTG occurs when resiliency takes charge and allows one to rise above adversity.
Results of PTG include cultivating a new understanding of living, a greater appreciation for life, and the ability to channel pain productively. PTG also leads to an overall healthier outlook, a growth mindset, heightened spirituality and appreciation of daily pleasures, improved relationships, and emotional growth.
Recent events such as the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath, international war, political and social turbulence, and the Uvalde school shooting have left our children and adolescents with many questions, worries, and concerns. This moment presents an opportunity for parents and caretakers to provide life-changing skills by teaching and strengthening resiliency in their loved ones. With the proper tools, mindset, and support, children and adolescents can face such traumatic events and come out stronger on the other side.
Components of Resiliency to Consider
The American Psychological Association (2020) set forth four areas of focus when working to strengthen resilience and encourage post-traumatic growth. These focus areas include connection, wellness, healthy thinking, and meaning-making.
Connection involves interacting with others and working towards the greater good. This may include opportunities to purposefully interact with others through multiple outlets (in-person, via cards and letters, virtually, etc.), anchoring oneself through positive engagement, joining teams and organizations, volunteering in the community, and using one’s passions to help or to cooperate with others.
Some wellness points include physical, mental/emotional, and hygiene. You can support your child’s wellness by establishing healthy and comforting routines around sleep, nutrition/eating, exercise, cleanliness, and daily schedule. Additionally, you and your child can explore relaxation, coping, and self-regulation strategies together. It is also important to model positive self-talk and ways to talk through your own emotions in a healthy (and developmentally appropriate) manner.
As the parent/caretaker, you may also want to take time for leisure, purposefully step away from worries and allow yourself to be present and embrace moments of joy, gratitude, and positivity (all while explaining to your child what you are doing and why). Doing so will demonstrate to your child that, even during hard times, it is acceptable and essential to care for yourself.
Healthy Thinking and Meaning-Making
Healthy thinking can be encouraged by providing positive talking prompts, creating mantras, encouraging your child to activate a growth mindset for themselves and the world around them, and cultivating optimistic and future-forward thinking. You may also find it beneficial to make time for processing emotions together.
This could include sharing worries and fears, encouraging discussion and validating their thoughts, reassuring your child, determining whether or not their worries and fears are based in reality, seeking more information together, and reframing thoughts when they start to overtake or overwhelm. As you speak with your child, allow them opportunities for meaning-making.
Let them guide the conversion, offer options for supporting others and/or taking action, and work with them to take charge and write their resilient chapter moving forward. Provide opportunities to exercise internal strengths such as grit, goal-setting, embracing new growth opportunities, accepting change, and keeping things in perspective.
“I have, I am, I can.”
Three sources from which children can quickly draw resilience include “I have,” “I am,” and “I can.” When speaking with your child, you may want to guide them through this formula for thinking in times of stress and worry. Developed by the International Resiliency Project, a research study that spanned 11 countries, these sources provide comfort and resilience simply and memorably.
“I have” sources include external supports and resources that are presently available to encourage and strengthen resilience. “I am” sources are those internal qualities (feelings, attitudes, beliefs) that cultivate resilience. Lastly, “I can” sources are social and interpersonal skills that allow your child to rise above adversities (Yates and Masten, 2012).
Using this simple formula to identify sources and how to activate them could prove beneficial in moments when your child feels worried during those moments when you may not be readily available.
Our children have witnessed several tragic and horrific events in the past few years. It is up to us to provide them with the tools to process, overcome, and maintain hope in times of darkness. We can start by being a consistently present source of strength, safety, and resilience.
American Psychological Association (2020, February, 1). Building Your Resilience. https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience&sa=D…
DeVrye, C. (2018). The Gift of Nature: Inspiring Hope and Resilience. Rockpool Publishing.
Hanson, R. & Hanson, F. (2018). Resilient: How to Grow and Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness. New Your, NY: Penguin Books.
Tedeschi, R. G., Park, C. L., & Calhoun, L. G. (Eds.). (1998). The LEA Series in Personality and Clinical Psychology. Posttraumatic Growth: Positive Changes in the Aftermath of a Crisis. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
Yates, T. & Masten, A. (2012). Fostering the Future: Resilience Theory and the Practice of Positive Psychology. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470939338.ch32