Our world is full of challenges. Life’s pressures can come at us fast and furious and more people suffer from anxiety and depression than ever before. Learning how to develop psychological resilience to stresses and have the skill to self-regulate our emotions ideally begin in childhood. Psychological resilience can be defined as an individual’s ability to successfully move through challenges with confidence and stamina. Self-regulation is the ability to manage emotions and express feelings in a socially acceptable and respectful manner. Both of these abilities contribute greatly to one’s mental health throughout life and are definitely worth nurturing.
Below are a few suggestions that caregivers can utilize to help in build psychological resilience and self-regulation in children and teens.
We can “Hold space”
“Holding space” is simply being fully present during difficult times without judgment or even advice. It is to sit quietly with a loved one with love and empathy when they are expressing a difficult emotion. Sometimes our tendency is to fix everything for our children so they do not have to experience sadness or frustration. Ways of doing this might be taking them out for ice cream (redirection), or buying them something, anything to take their mind off of how they feel. This can create a pattern of avoidance and an inability to cope when disappointments or tragedies in life inevitably occur in adulthood leaving them feeling overwhelmed and helpless. Rescuing a child from their emotions takes away a child/youth’s opportunity to learn how to navigate through the tunnel of being sad, disappointed or uncomfortable. It also robs them of the accomplishment of coming out the other side, stronger wiser, more resilient. By “holding space” for your child they will learn they will be happy again and they will discover, through your supportive presence, their ability to persevere.
Help children identify their emotions
Sometimes children and teens have a difficult time knowing what they are feeling, and may “act out” through negative behaviours. We can assist young children to learn how to identify feelings through reading picture books that have elements of simple emotions such as happy, sad, angry. We can teach through modelling and identifying our own feelings. For example, “When I am hungry, my tummy rumbles and hurts and I feel grouchy.” By identifying the bodily sensation first and then the emotion we learn to listen to what our body needs and how our emotionally health is connected to our physical health/self-care. A rule of thumb for all ages is to make it clear emotions are not bad and it is ok to feel them, including strong emotions such as grief, hate, anger, jealousy etc. Identifying feelings is also a first step in self-regulation. The next step is to help the child or teen figure out what they need in order to manage those feelings in an acceptable and productive manner. Sometimes the knowledge that someone is emotionally supporting or “holding space” for them, going for a walk, or simply having a snack or nap is what is needed.
Provide opportunities for your child to help others
Helping others can be empowering and teaches empathy. This can be age-appropriate volunteer work or getting your child or teen to help you complete a task you know they can master. Providing helping opportunities teach our children and youth the world is bigger than themselves and their singular needs and wants. By understanding their actions affect those around them they learn to be more mindful of the choices they make.
Maintain a daily routine
Routine and flexible structure for children of all ages is comforting and teaches them reliability. It creates a safe foundation for self-discovery, learning and making mistakes which in turn creates a healthy self-esteem.
Allow room for your child/teenager to make mistakes
Children and teenagers will push the limits and make mistakes. This is how they learn and grow. These mistakes also create opportunity to view the problem in a broad or long-term perspective. Mistakes can be a prime time to learn how to problem solve, which includes how to do things differently next time and to acknowledge what was also done right. By staying positive caregivers can help keep things in perspective and validate that there is a future beyond the current situation and this, like all other things, will come to pass. Challenging situations create opportunities for self-discovery and are often the times when a person, young or old, can learn the most.
Children and teens are always watching you, the caregiver. They will always follow what you do more often than what you say. No one expects you to be perfect and if you are constantly trying to be it is sending a message that you are not good enough. That message is easily internalized by your child. They will learn that if you are not good enough then neither are they. Make yourself a good example, and care for yourself. Show your child the importance of making time to eat properly, exercise and rest. Make sure there is time for doing nothing and create time for having pure, child-like fun. Schedules and organized sports/activities have their place but children and adults need time for unorganized play as well. I cannot stress that enough. Downtime and unorganized play aid tremendously in building resilience and self-regulation in your child/teen and even yourself. The truth is housework will always be there, opportunities for teaching your children how to create and maintain mental health will not.
Set achievable goals and break them down
Acknowledge movement toward a set goal no matter how small that movement is, especially during challenging situations, Break goals into smaller, easily accomplished tasks and focus on what has already been accomplished as opposed to what is yet to be done. This builds self-esteem and confidence in your child/teen.
The reality is that life is, most times, out of our control, and that can be a difficult concept for many of us to accept. Children/teens can learn through our modelling that even though we are not always able to control our circumstances, we can control our reaction to those circumstances. We can care for ourselves and nurture our bodies so we are rested and healthy. We can prioritize building relationships and create a relaxed environment where there is time for play. We can learn to accept the fact that we won’t always have balance in our lives. When our emotions are low we can take the time to acknowledge it and give ourselves time and space. Goals can be flexible and can be tweaked or totally revamped to suit our new situation. We can look at the bigger, broader picture and know there will be new opportunities. If we can accept these things as adults and caregivers we will have trust in ourselves that we can handle the tough times and we can pass these skills onto to the young children, teenagers and young adults in our lives.
If you have further questions concerning building self-regulation and building resilience in children please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will be covering the importance of play/ role play in development in children in our next discussion. If you have topics that you would like discussed, please feel free to email us at email@example.com.
Until next time –
Wendy (Martensville) & Deb (Warman)
From The Counselling Corner