Families are facing new and unexpected stress and anxiety. Caregivers need to maintain their family’s safety during a pandemic, manage financial stress, and homeschool their children. Our kids are struggling to navigate upended routines and isolation from friends.
Many families are wondering how the uncertainty of current events is affecting their children. How can parents help their kids develop the coping skills necessary to build resilience? The good news is that resilience is a skill that can be taught and now is the perfect time to start.
Resilience is the ability to endure stress and still thrive. It develops as kids overcome challenges and acquire the self-confidence to tackle the next problem ahead.
Some children are born with a higher level of resilience, but resilience can also be strengthened like a muscle.
A process called “scaffolding” is important to the development of resilience skills. Just like scaffolding is used in construction to support a building until it can stand on its own, caregivers use emotional scaffolding to support kids until they have a strong foundation.
Some ways parents can help build their child’s “scaffolding” include:
Unpredictable changes cannot be avoided at this time, but we can strive to offer routine. Routine provides a sense of safety and predictability. Children can best monitor their emotional state when they can guess what is coming next. Post your child’s schedule in a visible place to reinforce consistency.
Help your child maintain a wake-up time by getting out of bed at the same time during the week. Keep a consistent schedule for your child to eat breakfast, brush their teeth, and change out of pajamas.
Schedule focused time for subjects, such as History from 10-10:30, with appropriate breaks and flexibility for recess, gym, and music.
When children have the confidence to master new skills, it is easier for them to adjust to challenges in life. We can help kids grow independent by giving them just enough help while letting them experience and grow from mistakes. Develop challenging but attainable activities for your child. Support mistakes and celebrate successes.
Young children may water plants or set the table.
School-aged children may help care for a pet or fold laundry.
Adolescents can prepare a simple family meal or plan a family night.
Kids can learn to calm themselves by focusing on what’s happening at the moment. Practicing with caregivers deepens the connection between the child and the caregiver while helping kids control how they react to stress long-term.
Try “The Big Squeeze”
- Start with their toes, coach your child to pick one muscle and squeeze it tightly
- Count to five, then release
- Pay attention to how the body feels
- Repeat by moving up the body and squeezing different muscles, one at a time
Remember that for kids, play is not just played. It is a time to work out problems in a non-judgmental, safe zone. It allows children to explore their environment and test problem-solving skills. Schoolwork is important, but learning also happens when playing.
In a time of uncertainty and challenging emotions, don’t ignore your feelings. Take the time to talk through your emotions with your children. Children need to know that it is okay to have emotions, and that talking about emotions with the people we care about is good and necessary. Encourage conversation, writing, and storytelling.
Children are very perceptive and watch how you treat yourself. Work to model coping skills that your children can mimic.
Your child can learn to be kinder and more forgiving of themselves when they see their caregiver model self-compassion. You do not need to be perfect, especially with new and stressful demands on your time.
References: https://www.stonybrookmedicine.edu/KeluskarResilienceKidsFamiliesCovid19 https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Building-Resilience-in-Uncertain-Times.aspx https://www.connecticutchildrens.org/coronavirus/resilience-is-strength-kids-can-bounce-back-from-anything-with-the-right-support/ https://blog.chocchildrens.org/how-to-teach-kids-resilience-throughout-covid-19/
This article was written by Jill Lundstrom. As a Pediatrician, Jill believes that all children deserve access to quality healthcare in order to learn and thrive. Jill received her B.A. in Psychology from Boston University. After graduating from college, she went on to volunteer in an orphanage in Thailand focused on the rights of Burmese refugees. She then returned to Boston University to earn her Medical Degree and completed her Pediatric Residency at the University of Massachusetts. She has since moved to San Diego to follow her passion of caring for children. She has special interests in Adolescent Medicine and patient education.