Building Resilience is Possible

The pandemic is having a profound effect on the mental health of our children.  Despite these difficult circumstances and adversity, children can grow up to be strong by learning how to be resilient. At the core of resilience is having a positive response in the face of adversity.  In simple terms, the ability to bounce back and overcome challenges.

There are family risk factors and protective factors which influence resilience. Risk factors are stressors, negative life or community events. They include such things as poverty, divorce, death of a loved one, bullying, loneliness, illness, lack of support, etc.  To counter these risk factors, there are six major protective factors that help families build resilience.

Parental Resilience is defined as how parents respond to stress, the ability to meet challenges and manage adversity.  All parents will face pressure both parental and personal and are more likely to have favorable outcomes if they are resilient. Children look up to parents and imitate our response to stressors. How well we cope, will help our children grow.

Nurturing and Attachment

Every child needs at least one caring adult to provide a safe, stable nurturing relationship.  The person does not have to be a parent.  It can also be a relative, a family friend or a teacher.  They are role models for positive interactions and social support providing comfort, support, validation, and structure.  A term often used for this person is scaffolding; think of how a building is built with the scaffolds along the sides.  It is important to hear children’s problems but not to solve them.

Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development

Asking questions and being aware of child development will provide a better understanding of normal development.  This knowledge allows parents to be prepared to provide their children with respectful communication, consistent expectations and rules and opportunities that promote age-appropriate independence. When parents are not aware of milestones, or do not know how to respond to and effectively manage a child’s behavior, they can become frustrated.

Social Connections

Parents need a network of supportive friends, neighbors and/or family; people they can call on when they need a sympathetic listener, advice or support, such as transportation or occasional childcare. These supportive relationships also model positive social interactions for children, and give children access to other supportive adults. Children of all ages and adults need positive social connections with others to be healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Concrete Supports for Parents

If parents are in need, they need to have the ability to ask for help which will ensure the safety and well-being of their children. Basic needs for food, clothing, housing, and transportation as well as access to childcare, and health care can be impacted by several factors such as job loss, illness, death, or natural disaster.

Social and Emotional Competence of Children

Children’s ability to interact positively with others, self-regulate their behavior and effectively communicate their feelings has a positive impact on their relationships throughout their life.  Help children by allowing them to feel safe to express their emotions, by being emotionally responsive to their needs, by showing respect, by appreciating diversity and modeling empathy.

Author and pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), Dr. Ginsburg M.D., MS Ed, FAAP, summarizes what we know for sure about the development of resilience in kids by the following:

  • Children need to know that there is an adult in their life who believes in them and loves them unconditionally.
  • Kids will live “up” or “down” to our expectations.

To ensure children are successful at home, in school and as adults they need to be resilient.  We cannot limit the challenges that children will face but we can develop their strengths, teach them the skills to cope and recover from hardships, and to prepare them for future challenges.