Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Is your child resilient?

The ability to bounce back from a bad situation is an important life skill for all children

I heard on the grapevine a story about a mum who kept her daughter home from school on the day of the sports carnival.
She told the school her daughter was sick, but it was later revealed that her real reason was that she didn’t want her daughter to be upset if she didn’t win.
Her daughter isn’t a teenager dreaming of Olympic gold, she is a five-year-old Prep student.
It made me feel sad for the child missing out on a fun school event that encourages participation, teamwork, school spirit, sportsmanship and friendly competition.
I also felt sad for the mother who clearly struggles to teach her child resilience, perhaps because she is not so resilient herself.
Being resilient is one of the most important characteristics that we need to instill in our children.
Resilience is the ability to adapt to adversity, to recover from illness, depression, stress or just bad luck.
For young children, something that seems insignificant to us – such as coming second in a school race, changing seats in the classroom, not being invited to a party or a friend saying “I’m not your friend anymore” – can actually be quite devastating for them.
The way children deal with these problems will demonstrate their resilience, which is part of their emotional intelligence.
Everyone is born with a different temperament and, depending on how it interacts with life experiences, it can determine how resilient you are.

Educator and parenting consultant Kathy Walker says in her book, Parenting, “evidence suggests that there appears to be some genetic influence upon people’s resilience”.
Some people are naturally optimistic, while others find it harder to bounce back, and over time, this tendency can become what psychologists call “leaned helplessness”.
Kids who say “I can’t do it”, “It’s too hard”, “I’m never any good” or “I don’t want to, I don’t like it” are beginning a pattern of learned helplessness.
Each time a child makes a comment like this and the parent takes over and completes the task for the child, their learned helplessness is reinforced.
But the good news is that resilience can also be learned and developed, as each of us has the ability to control our responses to the obstacles we may face.
When faced with a problem, resilient people focus on finding a solution rather than getting depressed and feeling like victims.
Walker says: “If children are encouraged to have a go, to try again and to persevere even when things are a bit hard or they feel afraid, they will develop resilience rather than ‘giving up’ behaviours.”
She says it is much easier to build our children’s self-esteem and resilience if we are working on our own.
“Sadly, many adults have grown up believing themselves to be unworthy, and lack confidence in themselves and their competence,” she says.
“It’s never too late to work on ourselves, to unlearn old messages, beliefs and attitudes and learn new ones.”
We are thrown all sorts of knocks throughout our entire life, so parents need to teach by example and show their children that you can bounce back.
Teaching resilience will help children to better be able to manage stress and feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.
As much as we would like to protect our children from disappointment, sadness, stress, grief or anxiety, we are doing more harm than good if we don’t let kids experience these emotions for themselves.
And it’s our job to give children the tools to recover from difficult times.

Tips to help build your child’s confidence and resilience:

• Give your child opportunities to try new things.
• Encourage your child to try again if they fail and help them understand that everyone makes mistakes. It’s OK if you can’t do something the first time you try.
• Model confidence in your own ability.
• Encourage your child to act confident – acting confident is the first step to feeling confident.
• Praise your child’s efforts.
• Be empathetic.
• Communicate effectively and listen actively.
• Accept your child for who they are and help them set realistic expectations and goals.
• Work out practical and positive things your child can do to build skills and increase their chances of success (such as teaching them to practise an activity if they want to improve).
• Develop responsibility, compassion and a social conscience by providing opportunities to contribute to society.
• Allow your child to solve problems and make decisions on their own.
Source: Raising Children Network & Family TLC

Resilient children exhibit the following traits:
• find ways to solve their problems
• exercise control over negative thoughts and take responsibility for choosing how to act and feel
• are more likely to have people to talk to and confide in when something worries them
• have inner strength, social and inter-personal skills and skills in communicating effectively
• require parents and carers to model resilient behaviours and help promote resilience through words, actions and the environment in which they are being raised
• like to try new things, enjoy a challenge
• need supervision, support and boundaries
• feel they can succeed
• persist with a task and persevere
• have a sense of optimism
• believe their contribution can make a difference to an outcome
• like helping people
• possess a sense of fun.


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