Episode 4: How to Stock Up on Resilience
What Is Resilience?
Being resilient doesn't stop us from feeling hard feelings, such as being sad, betrayed or scared. In fact, recognizing these feelings and accepting that we have them, is the first part of being resilient. With resiliency, we face our tough experiences. We feel our difficult emotions. And we continue to grow. We continue to engage in the activities we enjoy, we continue to take good care of ourselves, attend to our relationships, pursue our long and short-term goals and we choose to act with behavior that is in line with our integrity.
Build Resilience Every Day
Watch and Listen to Who Your Child Is. When you hang out with your child, you learn about their favorite things, what they are interested in learning more about and what roles they enjoy taking on. You hear about their day, you hear how they feel about what is going on in their life and the stories they tell. This. Right. Here. Is the biggest impact you are having on fostering a strong and capable child. From the time they are just infants, our kids use their relationship to us in understanding who they are in the world. The more time you spend together showing a deep interest in them, the stronger their foundation of self-identity. Think about really tough things you have faced and how important it was for you to have a sense of who you are. By listening you are showing them you accept their unique spirit and this will help them to feel confident in who they are, so when they are challenged it is simply a problem to deal with, not something that will upend their whole sense of self. This also helps them to care for themselves so that if they are being treated unfairly they can recognize this and advocate for themselves in appropriate ways. Plus this helps you create a bond where they are used to sharing who they are with you. When you have this it makes it so much easier for them to share the good and the bad with you when it's most important.
Encourage Your Child To Do the Things They Love. If they love sports, or dinosaurs or reading or throwing tea parties show a genuine interest in this. Help them make space and time to do these things. When children have a hobby or a skill they feel competent. They feel powerful. "I know all the names of the dinosaurs!" "I'm really good at basketball!" " I read 8 books this summer!" Not only do children feel proud. Not only do these activities help them learn and develop. But when a child is dealing with something stressful these turn into healthy coping skills. Think about the adults you know. How do they handle stress? Do some of them hit up the gym or scrapbook? Do some of them hit the bar or get into fights with everyone they know? The latter choices are examples of a lack of healthy coping skills. We all need to express who we are, feel good at something and have fun. When your child shows you the things they have discovered enrich their life- encourage it!
Verbalize Feelings. Help your child verbalize their feelings. The two best ways to do this are to verbalize your own feelings and to be as encouraging as possible when your child verbalizes hers. We know that we learn the most through modeling. So think about how often you share how you feel with your family. What is the vibe around sharing feelings in your household? When you can express your feelings with words you are helping your child to build an emotional vocabulary. You taught them their colors and numbers but how many feelings do they know? Happy and sad don't leave us with a lot of choices. If we don't have the words we tend to use actions or to be accurate, reactions. These usually land our child in trouble and still hurting. It can be hard to hear that your child is angry, saddened or disappointed- especially with you! If you are having trouble tolerating this, they will pick up on that and then- shut their feelings down. They want us to be proud, they want to please us. Show them you can tolerate their feelings and that you can accept it as part of life that people will be upset with one another. Praise them for using their words. You do not have to accept bad behavior or mean or disrespectful statements. But honestly, the more you create an environment that allows them to express their feelings, the less likely they will choose to act out because they have a better option. One that leaves them feeling heard and emotionally regulated.
Help Your Child Be Connected. Encourage their budding friendships and their interest in creating relationships with children their age, siblings, and relatives. Your child learns so much about himself in his relationship with you, help him expand this sense of connectedness. Notice who they enjoy seeing and make an effort to ensure they get to spend time with these friends or relatives. We know the benefits of having a tribe of people supporting us, for your child, it's no different. As they get older they are able to lean on the people in their lives they can trust and it helps build confidence and esteem to maintain healthy relationships. If they are having trouble connecting with other children, seek out support from teachers or child care providers about what they see happening in these interactions. Take time to help them build up these skills through practice and maybe some coaching from you.
Play it Cool. When challenges or stressful situations come up make the assumption that your child can handle it. I'm not suggesting you walk away or ignore what's going on- don't play it that cool! But check in with yourself, and the signals your child is giving you. Are they upset or are you? If you panic when an older child grabs their doll at the park, you teach your child this is a situation that is so threatening you are unsure they will be able to navigate it. They will learn to be intimidated next time. Instead, watch, maybe they will need your assistance or maybe they use their words and say "Hey! That's my doll! You can play with me if you want though." By observing how your child manages the situation you have a more realistic picture of where they are at developmentally and what skills they do or don't have in their back pocket.
Focus on You. How are you with the things we just explored? Do you feel connected with a tribe? Do you have relationships that allow you to express your true feelings and that make you feel seen? Do you have healthy activities you enjoy that help you feel creative, peaceful and that you can turn to in times of stress? Give yourself permission to attend to these things in your life, to either restock or continue to prioritize. I hope we are making the connection, from your self-care to your child's well being clear on the show today. When we have these things in place for ourselves we are less worried and tangled in our thoughts and more present for ourselves and our children. And of course, we are modeling healthy tools for our kids just by caring for ourselves- so we get double credit- how awesome is that?
Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. We tend to pick apart the details when we are feeling anxious. There are so many things we can choose to worry about. When you have your self-care in place, it is easier to be intentional with where you spend your energy. If you can model flexibility to change, your children get a consistent lesson on how this is done. Flexibility doesn't mean we don't have goals or that we let people walk all over us. We are flexible when we have confidence that we can come at the issue from another direction, that we just need a different way to solve the problem or reach our goal. When we are rigid, it makes a change so much more uncomfortable and stressful. When you can find moments where you can be flexible, be sure to include your children in the process so they can see how it's done. "Oh man, I thought the store opened at 10 am but the sign says 11 am. I wonder what other errands we can get done now while we are waiting for the store to open?" And when you see them being flexible with you, a friend or an obstacle in their way, give them lots of praise!
Ask For Help. How do you feel about asking for help? For many of us, this is extremely difficult. If it is uncomfortable for you, start small. But start to experiment. By modeling how to ask for help you ensure that your child understands that needing help is not shameful and a normal part of life. When your child asks you for help, attend to them. If you think it's something they don't really need help with, explore it with them but try not to shut them down. This is a skill that is so useful to have in a difficult situation and one you want them to feel comfortable accessing.
So now that we have all the resiliency factors cooking on the day to day, a change or obstacle will be much easier for our child to overcome. But when you see that big transition coming over the horizon, maybe it's a move, a new school, an illness in the family, a divorce, a change in lifestyle, what can you do to help your child thrive in the midst of it?
Well, you can start by listening to Episode 5, which will discuss how a Wide Awake parent can prepare their child for anything.