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Most parents desire to shelter their children from discomfort, pain, and fear. Despite our efforts, there will be times when our children will experience emotional or physical distress. The ability to manage stress and recover from trauma and adversity is the definition of resilience. In part 1 and part 2 of this series, I explained how you can use Fairy Tales and Scripture to teach life lessons to children. Many Fairy Tales teach similar morals to real stories and parables in the Bible. Storytime allows downtime to disconnect from media, technology, and external pressures and engage the imagination, adventure, and problem-solving. Below are four steps you can use to inspire children to internalize the messages that they are strong, capable, individually created by God with unique gifts they can use and share in life. You can remember these four steps with the acronym GRIT.
Get Connected: Notice your child and listen to him.
When children know they have the unconditional support of a parent, family member, or teacher, they feel empowered to seek guidance and make attempts to work through difficult situations. Six decades of research indicate that a child’s resilience mostly depends on their connections to other people rather than their own inherent qualities. Children can experience support from family, friends, people at school, and members of the community and acquire the following:
· A sense of worth and connection through spiritual and cultural beliefs, goals, or dreams.
· A new talent or skill in a particular area (e.g., excelling in school or a sport) increases self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-efficacy.
· The ability to self-regulate their emotions by using coping skills that can be applied to varying situations.
Ratify healthy risk-taking.
It is important to raise kids to take healthy risks. A healthy risk pushes a child to go outside of his/her comfort zone but results in little harm if they are unsuccessful. Examples include: trying a new sport, volunteering for the school play, or striking up a conversation with a new student. When kids avoid risk, they internalize the message that they are not strong enough to handle challenges. When kids embrace risks, they feel capable and learn to push themselves, even when things don’t go as expected.
Invite Questions & Label Emotions
When stress and fear kick in, emotions can escalate. Acknowledging their discomfort can be helpful. Children develop resilience when they are gently guided to navigate adverse situations in a way that empowers and enables them and teaches them to take responsibility for their actions. We can do this by intentionally asking them questions rather than lecturing.
Teach your children that all feelings are important and that labeling their feelings can help them make sense of what they are experiencing. Tell them it’s okay to feel anxious, sad, jealous, etc., and reassure them that bad feelings usually pass. Relate their experience to something you’ve previously read to them or shared. Assist them in seeking ways to reduce or combat their discomfort. The media tells us we should be happy and optimistic and reject, avoid or ignore negative feelings. This is one reason so many people have become intolerant of loss, mistakes, or sadness. Resilient people see things precisely as they are, process adverse feelings, and remain optimistic despite them.
Teach coping/calming/problem-solving skills
Encourage your child to reframe their thoughts to find something positive. Ask your child to come up with a list of possible solutions, and then discuss the pros and cons of each proposed solution. Remember that children need to experience discomfort so that they can learn to work through problems and uncomfortable emotions. Without this skill-set in place, children will grow into anxious adults who shut down in the face of adversity.
Being brave enough to face reality is what gives our children authentic motivation and strength. Tell them that they are resilient and that the situation, whatever it is, is not a permanent condition.
Until next week!
This post is the final installment of a 3-part series on building resilience in children. Read parts 1 & 2 at the links below:
Part 1: Four Ways Fairy Tales Inspire Bravery
Part 2: Once Upon a Time…
Dr. Marie Yvette Hernandez-Seltz is the founder of Candescent Counseling, Consulting & Coaching. She holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and an M.S. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. She has spent the past 15 years studying self-esteem, self-confidence, responsibility, and the effects of environment and culture on the individual.