In the past year, children have faced many difficult situations at home and school. They have had to adapt to new learning styles, living in isolation, and new classroom policies as districts reopened. They have had to face the fear of the COVID-19 pandemic, knowing that even parents didn’t have all the answers.
Though this has been a frightening time for everyone, it’s a great reminder of how powerful and essential resilience is. Even children can learn to thrive in these challenging situations and uncertainties. Building this skill early on will become a valuable trait in adulthood when they face more adversities in life.
Resilience is the ability to withstand and adapt to trauma, tragedy, adversity, and stress. It can help children and adults manage feelings of anxiety and stress following a crisis. Being resilient does not mean your child won’t still feel sad, angry, or other big emotions in the event of a tragedy, loss, or trauma, but it does mean they will be able to continue with life and learn to grow from their experiences.
Here are some ways you can build resilience in kids.
1. Focus on their strengths.
It may be easy to focus on negativity or what your kids can improve on. There might even be a lot of “what ifs” and regrets. However, please remind your child of how they dealt with difficulties in the past to empower them to manage anxieties and uncertainties in the present. By focusing on their strengths, they will feel more capable of facing challenges at school and home and become better problem-solvers.
2. Maintain a hopeful perspective.
For any tragedies that children may wish they could change, help them see it from a different and more hopeful perspective. Every situation has a positive and negative side. Making sense of difficult events by discussing different perspectives with them and choosing to remain hopeful will allow your child to create their own narratives for their experiences. They may not have the power to change their situation, but they do have the power to change their understanding of it.
3. Look for growth opportunities.
When children take on a growth-mindset approach, they recognize that mistakes are part of the learning process, and failure is just an indication that they need to change their strategies. If they experienced a fight with a sibling, discuss how they can work things out together. Instead of getting down about bad grades, help them see what they could improve on next time. If your child suffered the loss of a loved one, talk about how they can adapt to this new change in their life by keeping their loved one in memory. Having children reflect on what they learned after facing a difficult situation can help them see all situations as growth opportunities.
4. Help them realize what they can control.
Sometimes, when things seem chaotic, or children experience big emotions, they may feel out of control and afraid. To help them feel a sense of security during those times, they need to take a step back and write or draw out a list of things within their control.
With your child, you can create two different circles, one inside the other. In the inner circle, they can list things within their control. Some of those things can be their words, attitude, toys and playtime, body, etc. In the outer circle, list things they cannot control, like the weather, accidents, illnesses, natural disasters, and other people. This will help them maintain a realistic view of situations and let go of frustrations or worries.
5. Take breaks.
When things are tough, kids need to take unstructured breaks to validate and process their feelings freely. If they listen to too many scary news stories from TV or their friends, spend some time focusing on positive things at home with them. Give them time to play, draw, color, make crafts, or play outside away from electronics. These breaks from society refresh children and give them more strength to face whatever life throws at them.
Overall, make sure your child feels safe at home and school. If they have questions, talk to them honestly and reassure them that you are always there to care for them. Validate their fears and concerns and let them know that they can rely on you and other trusted adults. Empower them as problem-solvers, giving them the strength to stand up to bullies or speak out against unfair events.
The approach to building resilience is unique to every child, so do what is best using your knowledge of your kids. In the event of severe trauma or stress, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional for more guidance.
Emily currently lives in Orange County, California after spending four years in Illinois and half a year teaching in Florence, Italy. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from Knox College and an M.A. in Counseling from the University of San Diego and has taught English to native speakers and ESL students for over three years. When she’s not working as a School Counselor or writing, she enjoys traveling the world, playing instruments, and blogging about Millennial experiences at Long Live the Twenties.