All children are capable of extraordinary things. There is no happiness gene, no success gene, and no ‘doer of extraordinary things’ gene. The potential for happiness and greatness lies in all of them, and will mean different things to different kids. We can’t change that they will face challenges along the way. What we can do is give them the skills so these challenges are never able to break them. We can build their resilience. Resilience is being able to bounce back from stress, challenge, tragedy, trauma or adversity. When children are resilient, they are braver, more curious, more adaptable, and more able to extend their reach into the world.
Resilience affecting behaviour:
Children will have different levels of resilience and different ways of responding to and recovering from stressful times. They will also have different ways of showing when the demands that are being put upon them outweigh their capacity to cope. They might become emotional, they might withdraw, or they might become defiant, angry or resentful. Of course, even the most resilient of warriors have days where it all gets too much, but low resilience will likely drive certain patterns of behaviour more often. Since resilience is something that can be changed as it is not genetically inhereted from their predators, there are certain strategies to built resilience in children such as-
Resilience needs relationships, not uncompromising independence:
In the context of a loving relationship with a caring adult, children have the opportunity to develop vital coping skills. The presence of a responsive adult can also help to reverse the physiological changes that are activated by stress. This will ensure that the developing brain, body and immune system are protected from the damaging effects of these physiological changes. Anyone in the life of a child can make a difference but the most important role is of a family.
Increase their exposure to people who care about them:
Social support is associated with higher positive emotions, a sense of personal control and predictability, self-esteem, motivation, optimism, a resilience. Kids won’t always notice the people who are in their corner cheering them on, so when you can, let them know about the people in their fan club. Anything you can do to build their connection with the people who love them will strengthen them.
Let them know that it’s okay to ask for help:
Children will often have the idea that being brave is about dealing with things by themselves. Let them know that being brave and strong means knowing when to ask for help. If there is anything they can do themselves, guide them towards that but resist carrying them there.
Encourage a regular mindfulness practice:
Mindfulness creates strutural and functional changes in the brain that support a healthy response to stress. It strengthens the calming, rational prefrontal cortex and reduces activity in the instinctive, impulsive amygdala. It also strengthens the connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. When this connection is strong, the calming prefrontal cortex will have more of a hand in decisions and behaviour.
Exercise strengthens and reorganize the brain to make it more resilient to stress. One of the ways it does this is by increasing the neurochemicals that can calm the brain in times of stress. Anything that gets kids moving is stellar, but of course, if you can make it fun that pretty much grants you hero status.
Build feelings of competence and a sense of mastery:
Nurture that feeling in them – that one that reminds them they can do hard things. You’ll be doing this every time you acknowledge their strengths, the brave things they do, their effort when they do something difficult; and when you encourage them to make their own decisions. When they have a sense of mastery, they are less likely to be reactive to future stress and more likely to handle future challenges.
Optimism has been found to be one of the key characteristics of resilient people. The brain can be rewired to be more optimistic through the experiences it is exposed to. If you have a small human who tends to look at the glass as being half empty, show them a different view. This doesn’t mean invalidating how they feel. Acknowledge their view of the world, and introduce them to a different one.
Teach them how to reframe:
The ability to reframe challenges in ways that feel less threatening is linked to resilience. Reframing is such a valuable skill to have. In times of difficulty or disappointment, it will help them to focus on what they have, rather than what they’ve lost. To build this skill, acknowledge their disappointment, then gently steer them away from looking at what the problem has cost them, towards the opportunities it might have brought them.
Facing fear-but with support:
Facing fear is so empowering (within the limits of self-preservation of course – staying alive is also empowering) but to do this, they need the right support – as we all do. Kids can be fairly black and white about things so when they are faced with something difficult, the choices can seem like only two – face it head on or avoid it at all costs. But there is a third option, and that is to move gradually towards it, while feeling supported and with a certain amount of control.
Encourage them to take safe considerd risks:
Let them know that the courage they show in doing something brave and difficult is more important than the outcome. Age-appropriate freedom lets them learn where their edges are, encourages them to think about their decisions, and teaches them that they can cope with the things that go wrong. When they take risks they start to open up to the world and realise their capacity to shape it. There’s magic in that for them and for us as parents.