We live in a fast-paced world with a lot going on. We are ‘super-connected’, yet we seem to have less time for relationships. Our children experience more academic and social demands in our modern world, with increased stress and anxiety as a result. Some children naturally cope better than others.
When a child has a strong ‘battery of life’, they are fully powered up and ready to take on a challenge. The battery positively recharges after a challenge and is ready for the next challenge. Does your child have difficulty recharging when things don’t go as planned? Is your child saying “I can’t do it”, gives up easily or refuses to try new things? Your child may be operating with only the negative terminal of the battery connected and everything becomes an uphill challenge.
The good news is that you and your child can reconnect the positive terminal and bring back energy into daily life, by teaching your child how to be resilient. This starts with looking at yourself, your relationship with your child, what you say to them and what activities you do together. The outcome will be that your child and your family will be a whole lot happier.
So what do we mean by resilience?
The word resilience is being used a lot in schools, and it may even have appeared on your child’s report, but what does it mean?
Leading Australian psychologist Andrew Fuller describes resilience as “the happy knack of being able to bungy jump through the pitfalls of life – to rise above adversity and obstacles”. Dr Justin Coulson, another leading psychologist, and author of 9 Ways to a Resilient Child says “Challenges stretch us and strain us. But when we are resilient, we move past challenges and resume our usual shape”.
Resilience starts in early childhood and happens throughout our life. Our genetic makeup, the environment and the people around us contribute to our resilience. Healthy, consistent and nurturing relationships, and interactions contribute to developing or increasing resilience.
What can you do to help develop resilience in your child?
Parents help build resilience in children, often by the little things they do and by things they don’t do to “fix” things that happen to a child. Dr Coulson’s podcast which targets ‘time poor’ parents is a good resource. It includes a discussion about why dads are good for encouraging risk taking, while mums are good for tuning in when emotional support is needed.
Here is an overview of what you can do tomorrow to turn things around or make things even better for your child.
1. Be ‘present’
Dr Korevaar, an Australian psychiatrist, outlines how important it is to be “present”, rather than “being a parent on automatic pilot.” She states that Mindfulness is an exciting strategy, easy to incorporate into daily life. Research has found that some of us spend 50% of our waking hours in a state of ‘mind wandering’, which can contribute to feelings of unhappiness. Mindfulness teaches us how to be consciously aware of the present moment, rather than thinking about what has happened or what might happen in the future. It allows us to re-engage with how life was meant to be lived i.e. with joy, wonder and overall happiness. It will help us interact positively with our child and be able to teach resilience throughout the day.
Just learning how to breathe can be extremely helpful for ‘in the moment tune ups’ to stay focused and calm. You may try free guided meditations or the free 10-session HeadSpace app on a smart phone. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is an acclaimed approach developed to break the cycle of depression and anxiety, but is useful for all of us struggling to keep up with the constant demands of the modern world. It involves an eight week/20 minutes per day commitment. This is set out in the book with CD: Mindfulness, a Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World , written in 2011 by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. Alternatively, you may find a course in your community.
2. Build relationships and your child’s identity
Relationships are critical and are at the centre of resilience. These include your relationships with yourself, family members and the wider community e.g. teacher, sport coach. For older children, ensure that your child has a trusted adult outside of the immediate family they can talk to.
Dr Coulson suggests developing your child’s identity by teaching “who they are”, Research shows that telling stories of the extended family and family history, and to start these simple stories from a young age, is helpful for children with learning difficulties. Talk with your child about their unique qualities, strengths and challenges. Let them decide where they want to go with their interests and safe relationships, and support them to do so.
3. Promote physical activity and real life experiences, and minimise device time
When I was about seven years old, I climbed the big tree in our backyard. Unfortunately, I did not have the “nerve” to climb down again. Eventually my father saw me in the tree, and helped me get down safely. I was not in trouble. The next time I ventured up the tree, I slid my leg down to “find” the next branch …..a bit scary as I was going into the “unknown” and there was no sure footing. When I got down safely, I was pretty pleased with myself. Needless to say, I went on to bigger trees in our community. In life, I rarely shied away from doing something I had never done before, knowing that everything has its process and that I would get there eventually if I stuck at it.
To develop resilience in our children, we need to give them a metaphorical bungy cord. We need to let them go away and try things, explore the possibilities, try them out and bounce back from any negative experience they may encounter.
Some strategies to promote resiliency include:
- Believe that our children are able to do things – children can do more than what you think.
- Give them varied opportunities that build on strengths and interests.
- Let them make choices and be responsible for their decisions.
- Let them take risks (judging whether they are developmentally ready first), let them make mistakes, and learn from them.
- ‘Scaffold’ them in their choices and activities, rather than telling your child precisely what to do and how to do it.
- Be self-aware and avoid overprotecting them, but support them emotionally as needed
- Find out more about your child through Andrew Fuller’s online learning strengths assessment. This innovative approach to building resilience in the classroom through positive education can be shared with your child’s school.
Technology is great, however if it is not used in the right way it can have negative effects on children, adults and relationships. When we let our children spend a lot of time on an electronic device, we lose valuable interaction time with them. Children lose the time moving and playing that are so important for many developmental skills and an overall calm state.
So get the facts about technology, including how screens cause permanent brain changes in the brains of young children. Dr Kristy Goodwin, who is an Australian expert in digital health and well-being, gives advice on how to “ditch your techno guilt and take the guesswork out of raising young kids in a digital age”.
Dr Coulson advises to make sure you balance ‘green time’ and ‘screen time’ and favour ‘green time’ if you want to build resilience in your child. Every moment spent on a screen means “lost interaction time” to teach planning skills such as how to make their own lunch, or get ready for school the next day. Remember that children can only develop resilience if they experience appropriately challenging things, so that they can learn to bounce back from them with your support.
4. Help change your child’s thinking
For some children, especially those with developmental difficulties, life will present people who may say things that are negative. We can’t shield them from this or always “fix it. Here are some things we can do:
- Teach your child what options they have in response to hurtful comments e.g. walk away, tell a trusted adult, engage in something they like.
- Identify strategies that work for your child to stay cool when “under fire” and practice them even when calm e.g. take a big breath, move away to a quiet place
- Talk to your child about a negative event and help your child “solve the problem” and take this forward into another situation in the future.
- Teach your child to go to a trusted adult to get guidance if things get really out of hand and what is being said by others is “way too much”
How AIM’s occupational therapists can help
At AIM Occupational Therapy, we want to empower parents by increasing your understanding and awareness of opportunities to develop resilience in your child.
If you need more help once you have tried some of our strategies, we can help to identify the “bumps in the road”, and customise a plan that considers your child’s strengths and interests, and increases opportunities to build resiliency into the typical day.
Our intervention is evidence-based. We use a family-centred, child-centred, strengths-based approach to change things for the better. We also use evidence-based assessments and intervention strategies.
We will discuss your hopes and expectations and develop your child’s occupational profile, sometimes using tests, but only as necessary. We will look at modifying the environment, tasks and things around the child to promote success.
Our first thing will be to help identify environmental modifications. We are excited to be using recent research on sensory processing and behaviours including resilience. This helps us look at your child’s unique sensory processing patterns, and suggest environmental modifications to meet your child’s sensory needs. We will focus on ways for your child to seek out sensory inputs, as the research suggests that this correlates with increased resilience.
We will look at ways of modifying tasks or teach you and your child an evidence-based way to break down any task that your child wants to achieve. We will guide you and your child towards community activities that are meaningful and support your child’s strengths.
If you would like to discuss this further, please call AIM Therapy on 08 6150 8339.