Life can be amazing and life can be tough and these can both be true at the same time. What helps us get through the tough part is resilience. Our Resilient Crew reminds us all that we can get through hard times, and we don’t have to do it alone. Resilience is not being tough and pretending things don’t bother us- instead, it involves deep trust in ourselves and our loved ones that we can handle what life serves us. Promoting resiliency is two-fold: First is tolerating distress and second is finding ways to allow full expression of those emotions.
As this relates to our children, when we offer them the chance to master challenges and tolerate distress, they grow capacity for coping with difficulties and build trust in themselves and their caregivers that they will be okay. So how do we raise resilient children? Here are some ways for different ages and stages of development.
- Offer the environment for secure attachment. This includes safety, security, responsiveness, attunement and love.
- Spend focused time with your baby, noticing what they are honing in on and verbally reflecting back to them what you see. “I see you are really looking at that bird over there”
- Balance spending time with your baby with allowing them space and time to think and learn on their own. Yes! It’s okay for babies to have time to themselves too, as long as you are nearby to respond to their needs in a reasonable time.
- Trust that your infant can tolerate difficult emotions and provide empathy and support during these times. For example, if you are with their older sibling and your baby cries to be picked up, you can say, “I hear you, you want me to pick you up. I’m with your brother right now, but I’ll be there in a bit. It’s okay to be sad.” This assures them that they have been heard and creates trust that you do what you say you will do to support them.
In addition to what you’ve established for your child as a baby, you can start layering on the following:
- Allow your little one to struggle. That’s right. Let them struggle with trying to color that circle the way they want. Let them struggle with getting that basketball in the hoop. Provide encouragement and empathy when they feel frustrated. Remember that this is how they build resilience-by doing hard things.
- Don’t try to fix their feelings. When your little one tantrums, your job is not to stop it- it’s to sit with them in it while remaining calm and empathic. This will help build structures in their brain for emotional regulation and tolerating distress.
- Show them it’s okay to make mistakes and it's okay to admit it.
Building off the foundation you’ve built for your child from infancy through their toddler years, layer on the below:
- Celebrate failures as much as successes. Help your kiddos notice how making mistakes helps them learn and grow.
- Challenge societal thinking about emotions. Your bigger kiddos may believe at this point that sadness, anger, and other emotions are “bad.” If you notice your child expressing these thoughts, help them explore what makes them think these feelings are bad. Explore the positive aspects of these emotions. “Sadness let’s us know something is bothering us, and our tears can help us release that emotion in our bodies. It’s good to express your emotions.”
- Don’t confuse resiliency and a “no cry” attitude. These are not the same- in fact, a “no cry” attitude can lead to less resiliency. Instead, encourage your child to express their emotions.
- Encourage your child to face their fears, while offering support. For example, if your child is afraid of the dark, find ways to help them face this fear in a way that feels okay to them. (ie. add a nightlight, allow them to check for monsters before going to bed, etc).
Some of the most sensitive children can also be the most resilient. Remember your child has their whole life to build resilience. Caregivers can provide opportunities for building secure attachments, safety at home, and allowing their child to feel and experience a full range of emotions. Resilience is contagious - the more we feel resilient, the more others around us experience resilience too.