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I'm Not Raising a Wilting Flower

How to boost children's resilience in the midst of the pandemic.

Key points

  • The pandemic offers a unique opportunity to build up children's sense of resilience and competence.
  • Start by validating the child's experience without amping up their concern and worries.
  • Don't try to fix all of your child's problems. Let them sit with their troubles and brainstorm their own solutions.
Raising resilient children.
Source: Olha Ruskykh/Pexels

This pandemic has challenged every single one of us. Children, teens, adults: we all have had to balance an extra set of life demands that have been outside the scope of any other life experience we have had thus far. I often pose a question to help us realize that we don’t have a former life experience to reference right now: “How many pandemics have we lived through? Just one and, hopefully, only one!”

As a mom and a psychologist, I have watched my own children and others collectively struggle with isolation, loneliness, anxiety, academics, and reintegrating into a world that is slowly opening back up. We know that adolescents are very self-focused and believe they are on display on their imaginary stage where everyone is watching (aka the imaginary audience). Add the computer camera, masks, and social distancing, and we have a lot of confusion, stagnation in the development of skills, anxiety, and depression.

Adolescence is already a period of intense growth, identity building, and emotional chaos as it is. Add a pandemic into the mix, and that is a lot of intense emotion to process on top of the usual “stuff.” It’s a lot more to unravel and work through alongside the “regular” milestones to develop.

So how do we, as parents, build children who can use this experience to develop a sense of self and strength? How do we raise children who are not going to fall apart when presented with a challenge? How are we going to grow children who can face stress and use it to find their inner strength? Resilience isn’t born; it’s bred. As parents, we can play a role in building resilient children who aren’t going to break down each time they are faced with a life stressor, big or small.

Validate, but don’t join their anxiety or worry

I’m a fixer, and likely, as a parent, you are too. It hurts me to see my child hurt. Sadly, our kisses can’t make the “boo-boo” hurt less or go away any faster. Nobody warned us about that transition, but it’s here, and it stinks. Our role as a parent has now changed, and we need to step up and provide the space for our children to use these experiences as opportunities to find their inner strength and to reference back to in the future.

With that said, when your child approaches you with a problem, or (let me rephrase that) when you’re able to get your child to share with you what’s on their mind, recognize that you want to fix the situation and make it better for your baby, but don’t. Instead, validate your child’s experience. Let him know that you hear him and recognize his struggle but don’t offer solutions or take over. Although we feel like our job is to help, we may be indirectly communicating to our child that she “can’t” or “doesn’t know how to” and needs “saving.” Sit with your child in the same space and offer sympathy without words or with limited words.

Try saying things like:

  • That sounds difficult.
  • I’m sorry you’re struggling.
  • Have you been in this type of situation before?

Avoid saying things like:

  • Everyone goes through this.
  • This is normal.
  • This is what I would do.
  • You should ...

Encourage brainstorming

Although you may know the best way to approach a situation or dilemma, give your child the space and time to brainstorm and carry out a potential solution. Encourage your child to think of different ways to approach the problem. As a parent, this will require a good amount of patience and sitting silently beside your child.

Offer a shoulder to lean on, or put your arm around your child and rub his arm or her back. Let her know you are proud of her for working through a tough situation, and you have faith that she will figure it out because “every problem has a solution,” and “you may not like the solution, but one exists.” Additionally, share with your child that sometimes solutions arrive after a few hours or a few days of sitting with a problem, and there is no rush to “fix it now.”

Allow your child to sit with the struggle

As a parent, it is also very difficult to watch your child struggle over time. However, it is also these life experiences that help our children to build the skills they need to become competent problem-solvers while they are still living under our roof. We want our children to struggle like the butterfly trying to make it out of the cocoon because it builds mental and emotional strength. It slowly builds the internal messages that:

  • I can solve problems.
  • I won’t fall apart, and even if I do, I’ll stand back up again.
  • I can do this.
  • I am strong enough.
  • I am competent enough.

It’s like watching paint dry or the bathtub filling up with water. It feels like it’s not happening, or it’s happening too slowly, but something wonderful comes out of this experience of giving your child the emotional space to work through a struggle and come out of it.

The last two years have been incredibly difficult on the mental health of our children and for us as adults. Use this time to build your child’s skills and sense of self as a problem-solver. We can solve the problem for our child, and its relieving in the moment, but what happens when our child struggles again, and we can’t fix it, or we don’t know about it? Use this time to build your child’s resilience and competence.

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