Can Your Kids Cope With Stress?
Updated: 2 days ago
What is Resilience, and why is it important?
This has been a stressful year for everyone, kids included. Signs of stress can be harder to pinpoint in kids than adults, since they are all at different stages of development.
The ability to cope with stress, and to actively problem solve are attributes that are learned over time, not part of our personality that we are born with. This means that teaching kids to cope with stressful situations is something that we as parents are able to influence. When we model healthy coping strategies ourselves, and take the time to talk to our kids about feelings, we are better setting them up for success in later life.
The ability to overcome serious hardship is called Resilience.
Kids who develop resilience are more able to cope with difficult experiences and stressors that they encounter now, and throughout life. Resilience is one of the qualities that allows people to keep moving, to problem solve, in situations where others would give up.
My older daughter, Atlantis (pictured above with baby sister River) does a great job of helping her sister slow down when she is upset, and take some deep breaths to calm down and try again.
As parents, we can behave in ways that will help our children to learn resilience. According to Harvard University, "The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult. These relationships provide the personalized responsiveness, scaffolding, and protection that buffer children from developmental disruption. They also build key capacities—such as the ability to plan, monitor, and regulate behavior—that enable children to respond adaptively to adversity and thrive. This combination of supportive relationships, adaptive skill-building, and positive experiences is the foundation of resilience." (Resilience (harvard.edu))
When we provide our children with a safe and secure relationship, such as the type of relationship advocated by the Attachment Parenting Style, we allow them to explore the world without an excessive amount of fears to contend with.
Teaching children that if they make a mistake, they can try again is an important part of teaching resilience. Children who aren't afraid of failure are more able to succeed with difficult tasks in the long term. They have learned that if they do something wrong the first time, they won't invoke any kind of parental wrath, they are encouraged to try it again.
A recent example of this with my daughter was when she had spent about an hour building a block house, and then accidentally knocked it over. I told her I understand being really sad that something she had worked on so hard had broken. Then, I told her it would be ok, I bet she could build it back again even better than the first time. And guess what? She did!
I could easily have been invalidating in that situation and told her it was only a toy and didn't matter. Or that, "It's no use crying over spilled milk."
The approach that builds a secure attachment, and later resilience, is to honor a child's feelings, then to tell them that you have confidence in them to be able to solve the problem. This teaches the child that instant perfection isn't needed, that it is ok to have to try again. By showing these skills early and often, we teach kids to be able to stand up to stress and failure, instead of thinking that failure is the end of the world and that we should give up.
What if you have an older child? Or need to learn these skills yourself?
That's perfectly OK! Coping with failure and stress, and building resilience is something that we can do at any age!
"The capabilities that underlie resilience can be strengthened at any age. The brain and other biological systems are most adaptable early in life. Yet while their development lays the foundation for a wide range of resilient behaviors, it is never too late to build resilience. Age-appropriate, health-promoting activities can significantly improve the odds that an individual will recover from stress-inducing experiences. For example, regular physical exercise, stress-reduction practices, and programs that actively build executive function and self-regulation skills can improve the abilities of children and adults to cope with, adapt to, and even prevent adversity in their lives. Adults who strengthen these skills in themselves can better model healthy behaviors for their children, thereby improving the resilience of the next generation." (Resilience (harvard.edu))
As someone who has had to overcome a lot of stress and in my life, I am sometimes having to learn skills alongside my kids. I actually tell them that too, if we have had a bad day and start fighting. I will step away, take a deep breath, and apologize. I tell my daughter, sometimes Mommy has a hard time doing things right too. I apologize, ask if I can give her a hug, and we take some deep breaths together.
I know that I don't always do it right, but I am always trying to do better.
When we acknowledge our mistakes as parents, then it also helps to build trust with our kids. They know that sometimes Mommy gets it wrong, but Mommy always loves them and says sorry for a mistake.
I am learning to be resilient every day along with my kids. Modeling good behaviors as much of the time as possible is super important to building good skills in our kids too. We are fallible human beings too, but we get up and dust ourselves up after a mistake, and keep going. For me, my kids are a big reason for my own resilience and why I make myself keep going through the hard times. Modeling that can show them that it is ok to falter and fail, as long as you get back up and keep going.
I have also written about helping kids deal with stress during the Pandemic.
Let me know what you think in the comments, and what you do with your kids to help build resilience if I haven't mentioned it here.