Resilient children – resilient parents

07/10/2014 12:45 By BATYA L. LUDMAN

We can’t protect our children from all we might wish, but we can help prepare them to deal with the routine challenges of life.

As I write this second column on parenting, we are mourning the loss of the three beloved young boys.

I am once again reminded how situations like this put everything into perspective.

As parents, we can’t protect our children from all we might wish, but we can help prepare them to deal with the routine challenges of childhood and adolescence, and enable them to become competent, confident and caring young adults.

These three young men seem to have had a wonderful start in life.

As the mom of three now-adult children, each very different in personality but all very close, they have in no small part been the ongoing laboratory of my clinical experience. I marvel at them as individuals, enjoy watching them interact with each other, and love to see how their personalities, shaped before birth and already evident as little children, peek through and influence all they do.

How do we raise resilient children? Resilience – the ability to roll with the punches, to experience life’s challenges and not just bounce back but thrive – is critical for all of us, individually and collectively as a community. This is especially so for children living here, and in these times, worldwide. Resilience is in large part learned, and as parents we serve as valuable role models for our children.

While a parent may very much want to, they can’t shelter their child from all of life’s challenges. They can, however, give their children the tools needed to help face these challenges, turn challenges into opportunities for growth and learning, and help support them as they mature.

How parents cope with daily life and its many stresses, both good and bad, greatly influences how our children see and manage their world. We may not have much control over the many challenges that come our way, but we certainly can exercise some control in how we choose to see and ultimately deal with them.

A positive attitude can be learned, and even enable us to discover strengths that we didn’t know we had. The more resilient we are, the happier, healthier and more successful we can be as individuals and in our interpersonal relationships.

In short, resilient people are more satisfied, live longer and lead more productive lives. With this in mind, here are a few thoughts about helping to build resilience in your child.

1. Children need to feel your love and security in order to explore their world and feel safe. From an early age, they need to know that you’ll meet their needs, that you honestly care about them and that you’ll comfort and support them with unconditional love and affection.

2. Children need to know that you are there for them and fully present. This means reducing and eliminating outside distractions. Stop whatever you are doing, put away your “i-stuff” and look your child happily in the eye.

Studies suggest that good eye contact is an essential aspect of developing social skills in children of all ages, yet how often do we see a parent with their face buried in devices? Quality and quantity time are essential in building a strong relationship between you and your child.

3. Listen to and believe in your child. Help your child identify and express his emotions. Find out what he actually thinks and feels, and validate his feelings. The fact that you are empathetically attuned to his needs teaches him how to better understand others and increases resilience. Kids need to feel heard, understood and accepted for who they are. Mutual trust is crucial to your relationship.

4. Encourage an atmosphere of open communication and honesty, where conflict can be expressed and there’s a safe forum for discussion and resolution of issues. Through taking responsibility for your own behavior and acknowledging your mistakes, you can help your child become more assertive and learn that limit-setting and consistency are important. Criticism done with love and discipline (not punishment) can teach a child that their behavior has consequences.

5. Laugh and have fun with your child. Help your child learn to express his feelings, see humor in the moment and more fully appreciate the little things in life. Watch a toddler spend an inordinate amount of time just looking at a leaf or a flower, and you too can be amazed by the beauty all around us that we often miss. Teach your children to show gratitude and appreciation for what they have.

6. Find ways to make family time enjoyable, relaxing and meaningful. Eat, pray, play, exercise and sing together. Read aloud, tell stories and share family photos. Family meals, from preparation to clean-up, offer the opportunity to check in with each other.

7. Teach your children how to slow down, develop self-calming strategies, and reduce stress through breathing and relaxation. Children need time to play. Reduce over-scheduling and increase independent creative play and reading, and see the difference it makes in their lives and your own.

8. Help your child focus on her strengths and abilities. Empower her by showing you have trust and confidence in her decisions, and praise both trying as well as succeeding with tasks. Encourage patience and understanding, and help her let go of the drive for perfection – and instead see mistakes as part of learning.

9. Work on being the best person you can be, and encourage this for your children. Show your kids how their behavior affects others. Create family opportunities which encourage sharing, volunteering and kindness to others. Teach them about modern-day heroes.

10. Model a healthy lifestyle. Eat well, keep fit and promote healthy sleep. Provide routine, structure and consistency while being open to new ideas; be flexible and positive. Be hopeful and optimistic and be a friend to others who are going through a difficult time.

Teach your child to see the good in any situation and to move forward in spite of challenges. Through strength and resilience, we can all take a difficult situation and not just weather the storm, but help drive the boat.

The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra’anana, and author of the book, Life’s Journey: Exploring Relationships – Resolving Conflicts. She has written about psychology in The Jerusalem Post since 2000.;

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