Why Resilience Is A Skill That Every Family Needs To Learn
We’re now almost 2 weeks into 2021, and despite all the cute memes about leaving 2020 behind, it hasn’t yet happened. In fact, the first 2 weeks of 2021 have been a doozy. But, not everyone is coping with the hardships the same way. Some people are ignoring them, some are succumbing to them, while others are processing all the negativity and finding ways to continue living and making positive changes. So, what is different between all of those people? Well, it’s all about resilience. You see, the people who are processing negativity in a healthy way are more resilient than either those who ignore it or succumb to it. And you know what is great about resilience? Resilience is a skill, like empathy, that can be learned and improved upon. Which is great news, given the dark state of affairs in the world.
What is Resilience
But before we go any further, let’s define resilience. According to the American Psychology Association, resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors“.
And even more important is to understand what resilience isn’t. Resilience isn’t being all happy, go lucky when the world is crumbling around you. Resilient people experience emotional distress and difficulty. The only difference is that they don’t succumb to it and don’t adopt a victim mentality. They fully experience their distress, process it, and find ways to move on and grow from it. Resilience is also not an absence of struggle. On the contrary, if you never experience struggle, you will not be resilient. Resilience is a muscle we need to exercise in order for it to get stronger. And just like a lot of exercise, it might not be pleasant in the moment, but the future benefits are too great to pass up.
Why Resilience Is A Skill for Any Age
Contrary to what people used to believe, resilience isn’t fully predetermined by your genes. In fact, genes are only a part of your resilience package. Resilience is influenced by a feedback loop of disposition and temperament, supportive and stable relationships, positive experiences, and adaptive capabilities. All of those need to be present and work together in order to increase someone’s resilience.
This is good news because this shows us how we can influence and increase our resilience. Ideally, we start working on building up resilience in early childhood. But it’s never too late to work on it, even for adults. So, if you’re a parent who would like to make sure that their children grow up resilient, but feel like your resilience muscles are not in good shape, don’t despair. You can not only raise your children to be resilient, you can work on your resilience along with them. And I will teach you how.
How Parents Can Learn To Be Resilient
Just like on an airplane, you should secure your mask first before helping your child, a parent should work on their resilience first, before teaching their child. If for no other reason than to be convincing to your child. Remember, children follow our example and emulate us. The old saying “Do as I say, not as I do” fell flat for many generations and continues to fall flat now. Children don’t really listen to our words (shocking, right?), but they watch and sponge up our actions, and are actually pretty good at interpreting the real meaning behind our words. So, let’s work on ourselves first before we move on to teaching our children. It will be much easier this way, I promise.
Create Meaningful and Positive Connections
As I mentioned before, resilience is built by a feedback loop, and part of that loop is having at least one supportive and stable relationship. Ideally this relationship comes from our childhood, but not all of us are so lucky. But just because you didn’t get this part of the resilience feedback loop in your childhood, doesn’t mean you can’t add it in now.
You can increase your resilience now by making genuine connections with others who are empathetic and care about you. Don’t isolate yourself in the time of difficulty, though it may be tempting. Instead, reach out to others. Their empathy and validation of your feelings will help strengthen your resiliency, and show you that you’re not alone.
Plan regular times to connect with your significant other, close friends, and likeminded acquaintances. Do this virtually or in person, but do it.
You can also consider joining groups of like minded individuals to help you feel more connected. I for one, found certain Facebook groups to be very helpful for my mental health. Feeling part of a community makes you feel like you belong, and thus strengthens your resilience.
I am inviting you to join my Facebook group for parents so, you can feel part of an empathetic and supportive community. Just click the button below.
Concentrate on Physical and Emotional Wellness
It is very difficult to be resilient to outside stressors when you are not feeling well, whether physically or emotionally. Thus, self-care is paramount in building resilience. You need to stress-proof your body and mind, in order to stay strong in the face of adversity. So, you need to make sure that you’re focusing on good nutrition, sleep, and exercise.
Nourish your mental health by taking up a mindfulness and gratitude practice. (You can learn how to start a gratitude practice in Why You Should Start A Gratitude Practice Now) Yoga, journaling, and meditation can all be incorporated into your mindfulness practice. Focus your practice on giving gratitude to all the positives in your life. Once you are able to see that you have resources to draw upon, you’ll realize that you are a lot more resilient than you gave yourself credit originally.
Try your best to not engage in negative coping strategies. Those would include alcohol, drugs, smoking, and obsessing over social media. None of them will help you deal with your problem and will in fact, lower your resilience.
Find A Higher Purpose In Life
Humans need to feel like they’re a part of something greater. That’s what drives us to get up every morning and carry on, despite everything else around us. When you have a higher purpose in life, you will find yourself more resilient to outside stressors. Find a place to volunteer, find a job that gives your life more meaning, or just help a loved one in need. When you’re part of something greater, you know that everything else is just noise.
Work On Your Mindset
Another way to increase your resilience is to make sure that you adopt a Flexible Mindset. (Find helpful tips and tricks in The Benefits of Developing a Flexible Mindset for Parents.) With a Flexible Mindset you are much better prepared to weather the ups and downs of life, thus increasing your resilience. In a way, resilience is a skill of flexibility. The more flexible you are, the more resilient you are. So, work on your mindset, and you will see you resilience naturally increase.
With a Flexible Mindset, you will start finding growth opportunities in failures and misfortunes. You’ll be able to adjust your course of action, instead of dwelling on the negatives. And you’ll be able to set and adjust goals as needed. In essence, a Flexible Mindset is a Resilient Mindset.
Engage in Self-Discovery
Get curious about yourself. What is standing in the way of your resiliency? Are you harboring childhood traumas? Maybe you just led a charmed life when you were younger and never truly faced adversity? Maybe you’ve always been told that you are just too sensitive and weak? Whatever the reason may be, take the time to discover it. And once you discover it, work on it. You may be able to work through it alone with some journaling and meditation. Or you may need some professional help. (If you’re looking for therapists in your area visit my Resource Library for helpful websites.)
Knowing yourself deeply allows you to grow as a person. And part of growth is developing new skills. And since resiliency is a skill, you’ll be able to work on it as part of your growth.
Fostering Resilience In Kids From A Young Age
Now that you have an idea of what you need to work on as a parent, let’s talk about how we can raise resilient children from the start. After all, it’s easier to get things right from the beginning, than have to relearn later on.
When it comes to children building their resilience you always need to keep the feedback loop in mind: disposition and temperament, supportive and stable relationships, positive experiences, and adaptive capabilities.
Observe and Understand Your Child’s Temperament
First and foremost, understand what sort of innate capabilities your child comes with. Are they highly sensitive and easily rattled? Or are they the keep trying until they get it right type? Maybe they’re the easy going baby that doesn’t seem bothered by much?
Understanding how your child responds to their environment will help guide what areas you will need to focus on to build their resilience. And depending on their temperament, you will need to spend a lot of time building them up or just providing a little support for their naturally high resilience.
Healthy Attachment Leads To Resilience in Kids
The next, and very important part of the feedback loop, is making sure your child has at least one stable, secure, and loving adult relationship in their life. A healthy attachment is key to resilience and mental strength.
Ideally the person who provides this stability is the parent. But parents come with their own issues. If you are suffering from a mental or physical illness, you may not be the most stable source in their life. Yes, it’s painful to admit, but if you want the best for your child, then you need to admit it and work with it. This will mean helping your child foster a strong relationship with another family member like a grandparent, an aunt, uncle, or a godparent. Or looking for this relationship elsewhere, like a teacher, mentor, coach, or therapist. It’s less important who provides the stability, and more important that this stability exists. So, make sure that your child has at least one adult in their life that provides that stability.
Positive Experiences Help Build Resilience
Now, let’s move on to the next part of the feedback loop – positive experiences. And let’s first talk about what positive experiences are not. Positive experiences are not protecting your child from any struggle or strife. That’s avoidance and avoidance is the enemy of resilience.
Positive experiences are experiences that allow your child to build competency, confidence, and character. And positive experiences let your child feel connected, in control, and contributing.
So, your goal as a parent is to help your child process difficult times. And in that processing you need to help your child understand what part of the situation they can control. What part of the situation they can’t and need to let go. You should make sure that they feel connected and grounded when they’re experiencing negative emotions. You achieve that by being empathetic. (If you want to work on your empathy muscle, read A Road Map To Empathetic Parenting – A Better Way to Parent.)
Create situations that will lead to positive experiences. If you’ve noticed that your child is struggling with a certain skill, for example tying their shoes, and it frustrating them, work on it together. Watch a video together that has a hack for doing it. Allow them to practice it. Help a lot in the beginning and then help less and less when they become more proficient. Point out and celebrate their success. This will make them feel competent and in control. And then when another tough situation arises, you can bring this success up for them as a reminder of what they’re capable of. Use this as positive motivation for them.
And under no circumstance try to purposely make their life more difficult. I know many of us were raised by parents who believed that they needed to toughen us up for the real world and create extra problems for us. No, no, no! That doesn’t work. In fact it achieves the opposite. It diminishes the child’s sense of competence and control. And this is the opposite of feeling resilient. Our job as parents is not to create struggles, the real world can do this on its own, but to guide in overcoming struggles in a productive way. You can’t force resilience, you have to cultivate it.
Increase Your Child’s Adaptive Capabilities
The last part of the feedback loop is adaptive capabilities or more commonly known as coping strategies. We all have them, some are negative (endlessly scrolling through social media, drinking, smoking) and some are positive (connecting with others, yoga, meditation, exercise). And our job as parents is to teach our children as many positive coping strategies as we can.
If you’re someone who hasn’t learned good coping strategies, it may be tough. But you can learn them together with your child. Set aside time to identify your negative coping strategies and create a plan to replace them with positive ones.
For example, you may be prone to “eating your feelings” and then feeling even worse afterwards. Your child sees you and may adopt the same way of coping with negative feelings. So, instead replace this with going for a walk. Narrate it to your child so, they know what you’re doing. Explain to them that you’re feeling anxious and a walk helps you clear your mind. Your child will listen and absorb this coping strategy.
So, teach your children how to adapt to negative situations. Teach them to reach out for help, to be a contributing member of society, teach them mindfulness. Teach them that not everything is within their control and that they shouldn’t dwell on those things. Instead, teach them to learn and grow from every situation, teach them that “perfectionism” is toxic, and that we all need to take responsibility for our actions. And teach them to have a Flexible Mindset. Because we all have to adjust to life around us and the more flexible we are, the easier it will be to adjust.
Never Forget That Resilience Is A Skill
I will part with you by reminding you that you can do this. You can increase your resilience and you can raise resilient kids. You got this!