How practitioners can assist parents to raise resilient & thriving children
Resilience seems to be a buzzword at the moment, particularly when it comes to building resilience in children. The ability to bounce back after stress, setbacks and trauma is an important skill to learn to be happy, healthy and successful in life. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACEs) has clearly shown the dire long-term consequences of serious negative experiences such as abuse, loss of parent, divorce and mental illness on the future health and longevity of a child.
However, the ability to bounce back and move on is also important in the small scale of everyday life such as not making it onto the soccer team, a fight with one’s BFF or missing out on an invitation to a birthday party. In a child’s world, these experiences can be earth-shattering, and parents’ way of supporting is incredibly important for building resilience in children.
In 2014, Andrew Fuller, an Australian child psychologist, surveyed over 16,000 Australian kids and youth about resilience. The survey showed that 43% of Australian children are quite resilient, girls generally more so than boys. The resilient children broadly agreed that:
- they had a parent who cared about them
- they had a parent who listened to them
A recent study from Yale University¹ looked at 63,000 children aged 6 to 17 years with a history of Adverse Family Experiences (a subset of ACEs). The survey found that in this group of children, the ones who flourished in life tended to work outside the home, work as volunteers and/or participate in extracurricular activities. The author of the study, Dr Kwong, said: “Positive social connections appear to help youth define individual identities, provide them with a sense of belonging and attachment, and offer important opportunities to learn healthy adaptive responses to adverse experiences”.
Although we obviously have to be careful to make conclusions from a study focusing on children who have had a tough time with their families, it still comes back to the importance of belonging and having meaningful relationships with other people.
So in the busy world we are living in, it is vital that we as practitioners remind and encourage parents to take an active role in building resilience in children:
- By loving their children unconditionally and prioritising time and connection with them.
- By finding opportunities for one-on-one with each child, paying full attention, listening and having eye contact.
- By showing affection and empathy and helping the children identify and label their emotions.
- By being good role models, showing understanding, compassion and kindness.
- By managing their own stresses and emotions and taking responsibility for their feelings and actions.
- And as the child gets older, by trusting their child’s ability to make decisions and manage their lives thereby fostering independence, self-confidence and relationships.
¹ Adverse family experiences and flourishing amongst children ages 6-17 years: 2011/12 National Survey of Children’s Health. Kwong TY Child Abuse Negl. 2017 Aug; 70:240-246