Raising Resilient Children

July 13, 2021

We often refer to resilience as the ability to bounce back from difficulties, but resilience is deeper than that. When we are at our lowest, resilience is what keeps us plodding on. It is the ability to recover from stress.

It is not something our children automatically have or don’t have. It is something they continue to develop throughout our lives, and we are one of the most important influences on our children’s resilience. As parents, we are often tempted to swoop in and rescue our children from all adversity. Yet they become resilient by picking themselves up from failure, dusting themselves off, and trying again. There will be times we cannot influence the stress they are under, but we can help them to develop coping skills to build their resilience.

We know that the quality of the parent-child relationship is of vital importance for children’s future mental health. A secure base is needed to foster healthy attachments, and from these attachments, our children can blossom. Research has confirmed that even in the most at-risk children, an emotionally strong early attachment, ideally with a parent, acts as a long-term buffer against life stressors. This is particularly true for our children’s self-esteem and resilience. To become strong in these areas, a child needs affirmation from at least one adult who makes them feel special and appreciated. So, before we learn the tools to support our children’s resilience, we should focus on our connection with them.

Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, popularised an old story about setting priorities. The story goes that a professor takes out a one-gallon mason jar and sets it on his desk in front of his class. He then proceeds to fill the jar up to the top with large rocks and asks his class if the jar is full. The class responds yes. He then takes out a bowl of pebbles and pours them into the jar. The pebbles settle into the spaces between the big rocks, and again he asks the class if the jar is full, to which they respond yes. The professor then takes out a bucket of sand and pours it into the jar until it fills all the spaces between the rocks and pebbles. Only then is the jar full. The message is that if they had put the sand in first there would have been no room for the rocks or pebbles. Covey uses this demonstration to highlight the tasks of varying importance in the workday, including major goals, short-term goals, and minor tasks.

We can also apply this metaphor to our home lives. The rocks are equivalent to the most important things in our lives. For most of us, these are people – our children, close family, and friends. If everything else in that jar was reduced, these are the things that really give meaning to our lives. The pebbles are also important, perhaps our job and hobbies, but they are not as meaningful. The sand represents the mundane tasks that take up so much of our day, and they are often the things we give priority to. If the big rocks are the most important things in our lives, including our children, we need to make sure we prioritise time with them, or else they may not fit into the jar.

This is something I think many of us struggle with – ensuring we have quality time with our children. It is worth considering how we can ensure our personal ‘rocks’ are given priority. To ensure we have real time for connection, it can help to set aside time as often as you can for one-on-one time with each of your children. This can be done in different ways for each child.

For some children, we don’t actively have to try to work in time. These are the children who make sure they get our undivided attention during the day! But each child is different, and it is important to consider the different ways we can connect with each one. For some, it might be bedtime as we wind down at the end of the day. Relaxed and snuggled in together can be a great time to ask about their day. For other children, we may need to work harder to make sure we have one on one time. For example, it could be when walking side by side without eye contact. These children are more likely to open up when there is no pressure to connect. It is about finding what works for you and your child. But whatever works for you, give them your full undivided attention. Take comfort from the fact that research shows it is the quality of interactions, not quantity, that is important.

The overall message is to make sure we set aside some time for each of our children. Time when we give them our full attention, time to listen and reconnect. These moments of connection not only support our child’s development, but slowing down, listening to them and fully focusing on that relationship lays down the foundations for developing resilience.

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