Psychological Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents

Developing Resilience

Published on: September 11, 2016  

Developing Resilience

Childhood can appear to be a carefree time of exploration, discovery, and growth. We want our kids to experience the wonder of life and joy of relationships and learning while shielding them from tension and stress. This battle can be daunting for parents as there is a lot going on in the lives of children including developmental changes, social tensions, disturbing images and messages from various media venues, academic demands and expectations.

Teen amd Mom

Most parents I talk to are keenly aware of the pressures of raising a family in this day and age. We have our own expectations for them and strive to teach them the skills to manage difficult and even stressful situations.

I find myself wanting to solve problems for my children so badly sometimes as I hear about social drama, what was said, or or not and the disappointments that come when they hope something will happen and it doesn’t turn out the way they had hoped. I know that they need to develop the skills to manage these situations, remain calm, consider alternative choices, talk to trusted adults about what they’re thinking, make a decision on how to move forward thoughtfully. I know they will need to develop strong problem solving skills to face the challenges that they may face in the years to come.

Here are a few ideas to get them headed in the right direction:

Pay attention and notice. Let your child know when you notice something’s bothering him or her. If you can, try to name the feeling you think your child might be experiencing. (“Your quieter this morning than usual. Are you still disappointed in Sam for not playing with you at recess yesterday?”) This casual observation communicates that you are paying attention to their behavior, are “in tune” with how they might feel, and are available to talk more about what’s happening, how what’s happening impacts them, and strategies on how to decrease tension and resolve conflicts.

Be a good listener. Ask your child to communicate what’s wrong. Pay attention to their body language, be attentive, calm and reassuring. Realize that talking about feelings and events might be difficult for some young children. Drawing out what is causing discomfort or writing it down in a problem solving journal of sorts may be used if your child has difficulty verbalized what they are experiencing..

Be sure to avoid the urge to react to what’s happening, blame, lecture, or say what you think your child should have done instead. The idea is to let your child practice communicating what’s on their mind, look at all the factors that might contribute to why they feel the way they do, and communicate that effectively in a medium that is most comfortable for them. Do your level best to be patient through this process as your child’s works to communicate their feelings and concerns. And allow your child plenty of time to collect their thoughts as well. Personally, I like to have my kids talk about what’s happening, generate solutions and stresses that day. They seem to feel better when they know there is a plan in place. They feel even better if they were the ones who came up with a great solution on their own. We celebrate those moments!

Introduce feelings into conversations. For example, you might say “That must have been frustrating,” “No wonder you felt disappointed when they wouldn’t let you in the game,” or “That must have seemed unfair to you.”

Making the connection between events and how their emotional reaction helps show them that you understand what your child feels and that identifying and talking about feelings is just part of the way we talk with one another. Feeling understood and that communicating that you are emotionally available and open to understanding their experience helps your child feel that they have a supportive adult who is their to listen, understand and help them through to process of conflict resolution.

Many younger kids do not yet have words for their feelings. If your child seems angry or frustrated, use those words to help him or her learn to identify the emotions by name. If that is still a challenge you can use things that the child is familiar with to help them understand. For example, you can describe feeling frustrated or angry by comparing those feelings to a balloon filling with air; we don’t want it to get too full for fear it will burst. Where is the fun in that? Giving feeling a color or shape are also helpful first steps for younger children who are developing their feelings vocabulary. Helping your child give feelings a form or a label is the first step in them increasing their awareness of feelings. Otherwise, feelings remain abstract and confusing which can lead to children simply reacting to how they feel behaviorally instead of noticing what they feel and understanding why they might feel that way.

Help your child think through choices and solutions. Once the stressful event has been identified, feelings expressed and everyone has reached a point of calm it is time to talk about strategies and solutions. “I wonder what would make things better?”. Your child’s active participation will build confidence. Once ideas have been shared, ask, “How do you want to put this into action” “Who else should we talk to about this,” and “What can we do to support you?”

Listen and move on. Sometimes talking and listening and feeling understood is all that’s needed to help a child’s frustrations begin to melt away. Afterward, try changing the subject or moving on to something more positive and relaxing. Help your child think of something they can to do to feel more relaxed and calm. Dwelling on unresolved conflicts is not typically a constructive strategy to decrease stress, anxiety or feelings of sadness or despair.

Limit stress where possible. Brainstorm ways to change things if situations at home, at school or in the community are causing stress. For example, if too many after-school activities leave us with little time to complete homework assignments, then you might consider trimming back some of those activities so that homework completion is more manageable and rewarding.
Be present. You can help your child feel better just by being emotionally available to them. If you notice that your child is behaving differently than they usually communicate that you notice a change in their behavior. One way to help them is to get them thinking about something else. Another is, invite them to participate in an activity you can do together.

Be patient. It’s hard to see your child unhappy or distressed. The initial instinct is to help them feel more comfortable by trying to solve whatever conflict is creating negative emotions. Try looking at their situation as a wonderful learning opportunity. Focus on helping your child develop good emotional awareness,emotional control, good problem solving skills and resilience. In time they will know how to roll with life’s ups and downs, put feelings into words, calm down when needed, consider choices and weigh their options and be poised to learn from mistakes and get back in the game and try again.

With Warmest Regards,

Dr. Dave Callies
Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychologist
Gyro Psychology Services, Inc.
360-236-0206 (o)
360-236-9909 (f)
866-616-GYRO (4976)

“Promoting Balance and Stability in Kids & Teens”

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