Raising Resilient Children
Over the past few days I have attended a couple of professional development workshops through work that dealt with developing resilience and leadership. I’ve recently become interested in questions around resilience as I ponder how to help my kids to be resilient children who grow into even more resilient adults.
I feel that I am a pretty resilient person (others may disagree). I adapt well to change. I don’t get overly stressed about work or life in general. I take the long view and I don’t tend to carry baggage with me.
My parents split up when I was nine and my brother and I lived with and were primarily raised by our mother. I haven’t asked my mother if she adopted specific strategies to help us grow into resilient adults. Whether she did it or not she did a great job of helping me to acquire the necessary skills and tools to be resilient. I can think of some specific experiences in my childhood and youth that helped me to develop this resilience. Being raised in a single-parent household meant that I was called on to take on extra responsibilities on a regular basis: doing my own laundry – especially in my teen years; cooking or starting dinner if my mum was going to be late home from work; babysitting my brother and other neighbourhood kids; martial arts training; working as a camp counsellor; lifeguard training and lifeguarding and; attending more funerals than I would have liked in my early teen years.
Some of those things I can provide for my kids and others they have find in their own way. Right now they are four and six and frequently slide or crash into fighting, screaming, temper tantrums, etc. -often at unexpected times and places. I want to help them to learn how to manage their emotions and conflicts in a productive way. Of course this has a side benefit for Laura and I since it is extremely frustrating when these eruptions occur, especially when we are struggling to calm them down and resolve the issue.
In early May, TVO’s The Agenda TV show ran a program focussed on “Raising Resilience.” It was interesting and helpful to a point since the focus was primarily on older kids. Mostly it helped to point me in the direction of thinking more about resilience and how I can help my kids to develop these skills.
We are trying to help the girls to solve their problems – typically very minor issues are the foundation of their disagreements. So far we have been unsuccessful. We tried establishing a practice whereby the aggrieved girl had to take a deep breath and count to five out loud instead of shouting or getting physical when the other one was causing frustration. That would serve to de-escalate the situation and put the offending child on notice to stop what she was doing. Both kids agreed to this approach. They also agreed that if counting to five out loud did not resolve the situation the frustrated child could come to mummy or daddy for help. We would still be in the situation of helping them resolve the situation, but it would hopefully cut down on the screaming, hitting and tears. It might even cut down on the adult frustration and screaming! It seemed like a good idea especially since we seemed to have buy-in from the girls. Unfortunately as it turned out we really only had buy-in from the six year-old and the 4 year-old is the one who is often the instigator. We have fallen down on enforcing this process. However I think it can still work as a stepping stone to resolving these situations in a better way.
Building Blocks of Resiliency
In our session at work yesterday the EAP (Employee Assistance Program) coach spoke about three R’s as building blocks of resiliency.
- Regular Positive Habits
We need to give ourselves downtime so that we are not constantly in high stress (fight or flight) response mode to every situation. She spoke about taking deep breaths for 30 seconds as a simple technique to lower our stress level. Obviously there are more in depth tools and she categorized them into Physical/behavioural, Psychological, Social and Intellectual techniques.
I do pretty well at this. I go to the gym just about every morning, bike to work as often as possible, don’t carry regrets or attempt to change things beyond my control. We interact regularly with friends and family – I still talk to my mum every Sunday night and I seek out new knowledge and have started writing this blog in part as an intellectual pursuit. Laura and I need to do some thinking about how we can ensure the girls have appropriate tools for recovery. The counting to five rule is a step in this direction.
The coach spoke about living your values, cultivating a positive relationship with yourself and others, being patient and compassionate, prioritizing your passions and increasing your knowledge, ability and skills.
Again I feel I do reasonably well at these things for myself. Some of these are not necessarily realistic for a 4 year-old, but certainly I would like to help them work towards these. In particular I’d like to help them to cultivate a positive relationship with themselves and others. I am fairly certain that shoving each other and screaming at one another doesn’t meet the definition of a positive relationship with others…
Regular Positive Habits
This is what we are trying to help them to develop. She made the point that habit trumps willpower. Developing a habit requires practice. I have certainly been reminded of this myself this year since I decided to shift from attempting to go to the gym a few times a week to making it part of my morning routine every day. Now it is a habit for me and much easier to haul myself out of bed in the morning and get to the gym. It is also easier to get back into the routine if I am thrown out of it for a day or two due to work-related circumstances.
If we can help the girls to practice the habit of counting to five out loud when one of them gets frustrated and coming to us for help instead of fighting, that will become the normal process. We can then build on that habit and ask them to start developing solutions or taking deep breaths or whatever we think the next step should be to help the girls develop resiliency.
In addition to this talk on resiliency, we had a staff retreat today and part of the day was dedicated to leadership and team development. Our facilitator started out with a few rules for the day which I thought were equally applicable to resiliency.
Listen, Laugh and Learn
The first were the objectives for the day, which were to Listen, Laugh and Learn. I think that those are solid objectives for every day. If we are willing to listen to others, we must set aside our egos and our need to be right which then opens us up to new perspectives and helps us to become more flexible. We often hear that laughter is the best medicine and while I don’t know if that is always the case, it is powerful. A good laugh can help to wash away stress and rejuvenate us. It is a powerful tool of renewal and release. Striving to learn something new every day requires us to be open to new ideas. New ideas and information can often drive change and build our adaptability.
The second rule our facilitator provided to us was that she did not want us to take ourselves too seriously, during the day and in our lives and work. She said to take our stakeholders and clients seriously, but never ourselves. For me, this means we must be willing to let things go, laugh at our foibles from time to time and establish a positive relationship with ourselves. If our internal dialogue is negative and self-critical, we will have a hard time learning new things and adapting. If we take ourselves too seriously we forget that we are not the most important person in the room and it becomes hard to set down whatever burdens are causing us stress.
Of course these are things that we grow into and that are somewhat foreign concepts for kids, except for laughter. A good tickle can diffuse many a stressful situation and help a child reduce and even forget their frustrations.
It was a good couple of days that have helped me to further refine my thinking around the topic of building resiliency which encompasses so many other concepts like adaptability, stress management, independence, emotional management, and people skills. I’ll let you know how our experiments with the girls turn out!
What are you doing to help your child develop resiliency? What do you do for yourself?
Thanks for reading.