Today’s children are subject to a great deal of stress. From family life, to bullies, to school, to friends, to unforeseen trauma, there are many things that can cause our children to experience an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). Read more about ACEs here, and how to overcome your own ACEs here. As hard as we may try to prevent ACEs in our children’s lives, there are many things we do not have control over.
Helping our children deal with the stress of life and the hardships of growing up is an important responsibility we have. When our children have practice managing stress and have a strong sense of resilience, they are better equipped to handle the difficulties life will throw at them as adults. Building resilience in them does not mean trying to toughen them up. It means working with them through struggles and being a source of loving, unconditional support.
The best way for our children to not have to face the effects of ACEs is by preventing them. By allowing them to experience an appropriate amount of good stress, consulting with them and walking them through hardships, providing love, empathy, and loving limits we can stop the generational spread of ACEs and protect our children’s developing brains.
Despite our best parenting efforts, we unfortunately cannot prevent all ACEs. Life is out of our control. This is another reason instilling resilience in our children can set them up for success.
Resilience is our ability to recover from challenges. When we view a challenging experience as a learning or growing opportunity, we are better able to handle the situation and other stressful times. As children grow, they develop resilience with their parent’s help and other resources within their cultural or family group. The key is to understand that our negative emotions, like fear, stress, and anger, are not the problem and should not be our focus. How we respond to these emotions is crucial to well-being, way of life, and development of resilience. Stress says, “I can’t handle this. I don’t know what to do. I need to disconnect.” Resilience says, “We’ve been here before. We can get through this. It may be hard, it may be uncomfortable, but we got this!”
Here are a few ideas on how to help build resilience in our children:
1. Be healthy yourself:
We are able to overcome our past hurts and not pass those along to our children. Our past pain does not define us. Seeking medical and therapeutic help will help us overcome our past hurt. Taking care of ourselves and managing stress are important factors in our adult health. When we are healthy and less stressed, we are better and more patient parents. But even when we do our best to be the parent we want, we will still have times when we fail. Give yourself grace and learn from the experience. To read more on this visit Overcoming you Own ACEs and Breaking Generational Hurt.
2. Allow appropriate learning experiences and stress:
Allowing our children to fail is hard. But allowing them small failures in life will set them up for success as an adult. Children need to have practice in making decisions to form the understanding that how good their life is depends on how wise their choices are.
Children need to experience the stress of school and affordable consequences to understand how to manage the stress. The stress of a child forgetting to do homework is more affordable than an adult not completing projects at work.
3. Provide limits:
Although they may not seem like it, kids crave limits. They need the security and to know they are cared for. Parents need to provide limits, and meet their child with loving empathy and logical, affordable consequences. Finding the line between protecting our children with limits, and allowing them to practice decision-making and dealing with consequences is hard. Read more here.
4. Teach and model empathy:
Children are not as capable as healthy adults to handle the release of stress hormones and their ability to manage these hormones will determine how emotionally reactive they become. Children who have difficultly managing stress or are in a constant state of stress are more likely to show the physical symptoms of stress and illness.
A child looks to their parent or loved one for cues on how to handle life, so it is important for us to model loving empathy. Parents can easily become frustrated with their children, and this is the best chance for us to model how to effectively and appropriately handle stress and frustration. Don’t yell. Stay calm. Take a time out. Tell them you are too frustrated to think straight and need a break. Read more on empathy here.
5. Help them cope:
Children are very vulnerable to traumatic stress, abuse, and life hardships. When adults are able to reframe how we view a stressful situation, we are able to handle our reaction to stress hormones and overcome it. Children, however, are too young to do this. They see stressful and scary situations as life and death. We cannot prevent some of life’s inevitable stressors, but we can walk with our child through them. As much as we may want to, we shouldn’t walk between them and the world, but instead walk next to them. Showing our children how to deal with sadness and grief and standing by their side when things are hard can show them the world isn’t as scary as it may seem. They will feel loved and cared for.
6. Communicate with them:
Even the teenager who seems to want nothing to do with you craves your attention. When life gets full it can be hard to spend the time we need just talking with our kids. But taking that extra time to love on them and have conversations helps them to feel safe and loved. This can be simple things like asking them what their favorite part of the day was at bedtime, or going on an ice-cream date to catch up on their day.
When we meet our children with anger or frustration we create a relationship of hurt. If our child thinks their problems or confessions will be met with anger, I doubt they will want to share much with us. Showing them love, compassion, and empathy sets their minds up to listen and share.
7. Show them unconditional love:
Don’t focus on their achievements: This one is especially true for high schoolers, but it goes for all children. When we focus on how well our kids are doing, we focus on their achievements rather than their learning process. Kids have enough stress trying to keep up in school or play sports.
Our love for our children should not be based on their choices or achievements. Love them through failures. Love them through sad choices. Love them through heartache. Love them through temper tantrums and meltdowns. Love them through bad grades. Many of these things are temporary. Your relationship with them is eternal.
By: Emily Scott, PhD
Here are some additional resources:
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