Tags: Mental Health. Well being. Resilience
By VERONICA MERCER Mental Health Accredited Social Worker
“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” – Nelson Mandela
Resilience refers to one’s ability to “bounce back” from adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats and/or significant sources of stress. When faced with a difficult life event; the sudden loss of a loved one – resilient individuals can successfully cope with, or adapt to, the associated stress.
There has been a notable decline in the health and wellbeing of young people today. The increasing numbers of young people who are succumbing to emotional instability, mental illnesses, obesity, as well as low educational and social competence is concerning. Being affluent and having the ability to give our children things we were unable to have as a child, should be a good thing.
Unfortunately, affluence can create more challenges in raising resilient children than financial challenges or adversity. The experience of having to save for something or having to wait for it makes the receiving of what is desired so much sweeter. Being able to delay gratification is seen as a key quality of an emotionally mature person. For many of today’s young people, they have the immediate access to plastic credit cards and all the temptations that it brings.
This is taking place before they have the maturity to manage the full consequences of their actions. This is one of the attributes of emotional intelligence. We know more than ever before how the human brain develops and grows, and this has massive implications for parents and parenting. Resilience is a positive attribute that helps us to manage complex issues, difficulties, times of duress, trauma or disappointment by us having developed: • Strong problem-solving skills
• Persistence of will
• Founded on hope (www.valuesforlife.net)
Building resilience can help our children manage stress and feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. However, being resilient does not mean that children won’t have trouble or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common when we have suffered major trauma or personal loss, or even when we hear of someone else’s loss or trauma. Being resilient is not always about feeling better or having fewer emotional reactions. It’s about managing and responding to emotions in a healthy and positive way. You and other adults in your child’s life play a role in helping children articulate, respond to and manage emotions.
It’s important to remember the positive aspects of resilience:
Improving children’s resilience is about helping children to manage their feelings in a healthy and happy way. Children with a sensitive temperament can learn to survive the ups and downs of life through learning to be resilient. Children respond to ‘difficult events’ in diverse ways and may need diverse types of support to be successful, deal with the tough times and to be a positive influence for others. Resilience Traits.
• Boundaries guide us to understand that there is a separation between who we are at our core and the cause of our suffering. The suffering may play a part in our story but it does not overtake our permanent identity.
• Surround themselves with other resilient people, for whatever reason supportive people give us space to grieve and work through our emotions. They know how to listen and when to offer just enough encouragement. They do not try to solve our problems. Good supporters know how to just be with adversity – calming us rather than frustrating us.
• Self-awareness helps us get in touch with our psychological/physiological needs—knowing what we need, what we don’t need, and when it’s time to reach out for some help. Being ‘blissfully unaware’ may get us through a difficult day but it’s not
• a wise long-term strategy. Being self-aware allows us to be good listeners, understand the subtle cues from others body ‘s and their mood.
• If we were to always try and be strong to stay afloat, yet prone to massive stress fractures when we experience an unexpected change in our environment, we would present as prideful stubbornness without emotional flexibility or self-awareness – making us emotional glaciers.
• Resilient people understand that stress/pain is a part of life and that it fluctuates. Acceptance is about learning from the experience, coming to terms with the truth
• and/or pain. It is when we repress, ignore or try to deny it, that we come unravelled. We must experience the full range of emotions and trust that we will bounce back.
• We all react differently to stress and trauma. Some of us shut down and some of us ramp up. Somewhere in the middle, there is mindfulness– being in the presence of the moment without judgment or avoidance. It takes practice, but it’s one of the purest and most ancient forms of healing and resilience-building.
• When we try hard to find the answers to difficult questions in the face of traumatic events, the trying too hard may actually block the answers from arising naturally in their own due time. It’s okay to not have it all figured out right away. More importantly, we need to develop trust that we will gradually find peace and knowing.
Good self-care habits are vital, and we should have a strong list of good habits that support us during our times of need. We can all become self-care spotters in our life—noticing those things that recharge our batteries and fill our cup. Find them and utilise them frequently.
• The most resilient individuals know how to reach out for help. We can all learn how to be better supporters on another person’s team. Remember It’s okay to communicate to our supporters what is and isn’t helpful feedback/support for our needs. Voicing our needs is essential in having them met. People are not “mind readers”.
• We can train ourselves to ask which parts of our current story are permanent and which we can change. Our interpretations of our stories will always change as we grow and mature. Knowing that today’s interpretation can and will change, gives us the faith and hope that things can feel better tomorrow. This helps us maintain a realistic understanding that the present situation is being coloured by our current interpretation.
• When we are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, our thoughts can swirl with dizzying speed and disconnectedness. We tend to overthink every little thing. Learning to get our thoughts out of our heads is something we all need to learn.
It’s quite simple we need to write it down or share our thoughts with someone. We can find a great sense of reprieve by getting the thoughts out of our head (https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/design-your-path/201305/10-traits-emotionally-resilient-people).
Parents Role in building their children’s resilience
• Be sensitive to the stress in your children’s lives, help them cope and for them to find solutions.
• Understand when and why your children are bored and help relieve their boredom
• Have boundaries – e.g. limit the amount of money your children spend and monitor how that money is spent
• Know who your children’s friends are
• Be engaged in your children’s lives: help them with their homework, attend their sports events, participate in activities together, and talk to them about issues like drugs and alcohol.
• Parents need to be constantly reviewing what is happening in their children’s lives.
• Reflecting with the other parent or family member or another person deeply involved in their child’s life is very helpful to stay in tune with an individual child’s development.
• Please avoid comparing children – that is disrespectful of a child’s individuality and essential human potential and has the tendency to invalidate the child.
• Children need to experience disappointment, challenge, failure and boundaries to fully develop the interpersonal and personal skills that allow people to live in society.
• Children need to have a voice and age-dependent moments of autonomy where they get to have a sense of control over their life. However, too much will lead to overindulgent, permissive and unpleasantly challenging behaviour that will create conflict and distress.
• Young children need help to manage strong negative feelings and learn how to communicate their needs to significant adults. (https://healthyfamilies.beyondblue.org.au/). Tips for parents From a resilience perspective parents need to coach kids through some of their more challenging moments and reviewing what they may have learned for next time. Avoid solving all their problems for them.
You can promote a lasting sense of resilience in your kids by:
• Having a positive attitude, yourself. Your attitude as a parent impacts on their ability to bounce back from some of the difficulties they face. Make sure you model a ‘you can do it’ attitude for your child when he meets some of life’s curve balls.
• Look for teachable moments. Many kids’ learning opportunities are disguised as problems. Make the most of these opportunities so that kids can grow and learn from some of the challenges they face.
• Make kids active participants in the family. Active participation in a family develops the self-help, problem-solving and independence skills of kids that are necessary for resilience.
• Build kids coping skills. There are plenty of strategies you can pass on to kids to help them cope when life doesn’t go their way, including acceptance, getting away for a while, and normalisation.
Promoting resilience in kids is a not a single event but a continuous process that requires adults to be supportive and empathetic when things don’t go their way. It also requires you as a parent to understand resilience, so you have faith in your yourself, and your child’s ability to cope.
What does resilience look like?
There’s probably not one way to describe what resilience looks like and, of course, no-one is resilient all the time. There are some characteristics that we might expect to see in a child who is coping well or is resilient. For instance, they might:
• use positive self-talk for encouragement
• capably express their feelings and thoughts
• not hide away from strong feelings
• have helpful, age-appropriate strategies to manage their emotions if they are upset
• rearrange their plans to work around an unexpected situation
• use a trial-and-error approach in their daily life
• remain hopeful and keep on trying if something doesn’t work out
• know when to stop trying if they decide the effort is not worthwhile
• actively ask for help if they need it.
It’s important to note that children can appear resilient on the outside but not actually be resilient. They may have learned to behave in ways that are acceptable to the adults around them. Sometimes, these children can go under the radar in a school or community setting. A child like this might;
• not openly express their feelings
• put on a front (even though it’s obvious they are struggling)
• not fully engage in what’s happening around them
• not fully connect with other children and adults in their lives
• tend to give up if things don’t go well in the first instance
• not appear confident in dealing with situations themselves (but might not make a fuss about it) (https://healthyfamilies.beyondblue.org.au/).
What are the factors that impact on a child’s ability to build resilience? Resilience partly comes from factors internal to the child.
• A resilient child has social and emotional competencies for their age that help them to name their feelings, manage their emotions, be aware of other people, solve problems, and make good decisions.
• A child’s unique temperament or personality will have some bearing on this.
• Some children learn social and emotional skills quite easily, whereas other children require more support.
• Certain children are more easily upset or distressed than others when confronted by a difficulty. Resilience is affected by external factors too.
• Children are more likely to be resilient when there are supports around them from family, school or community;
• When they can seek help, being shown that they don’t have to do everything themselves or have all the answers.
• If children are surrounded by adults who model resilience – through their own behaviours as well as by explicitly teaching and practising the social and emotional skills – they will be more likely to develop resilience themselves.
• It can also help for parents to learn to manage their own stress and build their own resilience, so they can best support their child. Health professionals can play an active role in this regard.
• Schools, as social and learning environments, provide many opportunities for children to confront and learn to deal effectively with the many day-to-day stressors that arise.
• A planned and strategic approach to this work can help children develop skills and gain a sense of connectedness, and really acts as a protective factor.
In fact, resilience as something we all keep working on over the course of our lifespan. We can learn the skills and gain the confidence to deal with challenges throughout our lives transitions. This, of course, begins in childhood and the patterns we develop then will play a role in how we continue to deal with problems in the future. We certainly see children in schools who build their self-confidence and their resilience over time, often assisted by the support of families and school staff.
The focus on social and emotional skills is important for children’s resilience.
These are the skills that help children to;
• understand themselves,
• manage a wide range of emotions, and
• seek help when necessary (https://healthyfamilies.beyondblue.org.au/).
Teaching children to accept that all feelings are okay is an important aspect of this and enables them to express things such as frustration or worry. It is also key to help children feel in charge of their own responses to feelings, and to have confidence in their ability to solve problems that arise, with support if necessary.
If we understand resilience as partly about being able to seek and accept help when required, we will be able to normalise the range of experiences we all have, including on bad days. Developing resilience is an individual and personal journey and you should use your knowledge of your own children to guide them on their journey.
If your child seems stuck or overwhelmed and unable to use the tips listed above, you may want to consider talking to someone who can help, such as a counsellor, psychologist or other mental health professional. Turning to someone for guidance may help your child strengthen resilience and persevere during times of stress or trauma. Wishing you all good mental well-being. Veronica
“Out of massive suffering emerged the strongest souls; the most massive character is seared with scars.” – Khalil Gibran