Jessica Presutto, BSc (Hons.)
Helping Your Child Build Resilience During the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a source of chronic stress and has led to profound disruptions to normal daily routines. Children and adolescents in particular have faced immense challenges throughout the pandemic including decreased opportunities for socialization, academic disruptions, mental health difficulties, and an overall decline in well-being and life satisfaction. As parents, it is normal to feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to help your child navigate through these difficult times.
Resilience is a key tool in reducing the adverse and traumatic impacts of the pandemic and is broadly defined as the process of adapting well in the face of challenges or significant sources of stress – it is the ability to bounce back from adversity.
Why is resilience important?
ü Increases one’s ability to cope with stress and challenging life situations
ü Improves overall health and well-being
ü Enhances academic performance
ü Improves interpersonal relationships
The good news is that resilience is a skill that anyone can learn to develop at any point in life! As a parent, you can support your child’s emotional well-being by fostering simple resilience-building skills.
Tips to help your child build their resilience toolkit
Here are six tips you can implement today to help your child build their resilience toolbox!
1. Get Active. Regular exercise is a key factor in building resilience. Research has found that when you move your body, your muscles release chemicals into the bloodstream that improve mood, reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, and make the brain more resilient to stress. As a parent, you can play a vital role in helping your child become more physically active. Whatever activity you choose, the key is to make it fun and enjoyable. For example:
· Have your child help you create a playlist of their favorite songs and have a dance party.
· Turn a boring walk around the neighborhood into a nature scavenger hunt.
· Play a game of family tag at the park.
· Incorporate toys that encourage physical activity, such as balls, kites, and jump rope.
2. Encourage Good Sleep Habits. Sleep is essential for fostering both mental and emotional resilience. Unfortunately, sleep quality has been greatly impacted since the start of the pandemic for both children and adults. The following tips can help you and your child maintain good sleep hygiene:
· Create a regular sleep schedule (i.e., go to bed & wake up at a consistent time each day).
· Limit caffeine intake by the late afternoon/early evening.
· Limit use of electronic devices in the hour before bed.
· Incorporate daily physical activity (regular exercise has been shown to improve sleep).
3. Stay Connected & Seek Support. It can be comforting to know that we are not alone during difficult times.Social connections are strongly associated with resilience factors and lead to improved psychological outcomes, and good physical health and longevity. As a parent, you can help your child build a strong support network of empathic and compassionate people including family members, friends, teachers, mentors, coaches, and/or mental health professionals. It is important to not only brainstorm with your child who can be apart of their support network, but also what characteristics make a good support person. For example, turning to individuals who:
· Validate your feelings and experiences
· Actively listen and give you their full attention
· Do not pass judgement
· Do not make you share more than you are comfortable with sharing
· Keep your information confidential
4. Increase Self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is an individual's belief in their abilities. Self-efficacy continues to develop throughout our life as we acquire new skills and have new experiences. Research has found that individuals with high self-efficacy are better able to “bounce back” after adverse experiences. As a parent, you can help your child build self-efficacy by encouraging them to engage in activities that create a sense of mastery in their abilities. The key with any activity they engage in, is to make sure they are setting achievable goals, continually practicing at it to develop those mastery skills, and giving themselves credit for the things they did well! Some examples include:
· Have your child choose one weekly responsibility around the house that they would like
to oversee (e.g., helping with making meals at home, organizing a family movie night).
· Encourage them to engage in simple, fun, and achievable activities they enjoy and
feel confident in (e.g., drawing, playing an instrument, reading, a daily crossword).
· Encourage them to try something new and keep practicing.
5. Enhance Positive Emotions. Fostering positive emotions has been shown to lessen the negative impact of stress by supporting psychological and physical well-being. Resilience is thought to be mediated by the ability to hold positive emotions alongside negative ones during times of stress. We often focus on trying to decrease negative emotions, which can be very hard to do. Instead, individuals with high resilience focus on enhancing positive emotions. So, how can you and your child enhance positive emotions?
· Practice gratitude. Gratitude means appreciating the good things that life has given us. If we only focus on what we want but don’t have, it can keep us in a negative state of mind. Incorporating a daily gratitude practice with your child is a great first step to fostering positive emotions. For example, you and your child can each take turns listing five small and insignificant things – things usually overlooked, that generate feelings of gratitude and joy. Alternatively, you and your child could also list things that happened during your day that you are both grateful for (e.g., having a warm cup of tea, wearing cozy slippers, eating their favorite snack during snack time at school, receiving a smile from a neighbour).
· Practice savouring. Savouring involves recognizing a pleasant experience and allowing yourself to be drawn into it and enjoy it. Any pleasant experience can become a savoring experience. For example, snack time after school, playing with a pet, putting on your favorite comfy outfit. Help your child generate a list of small and simple activities that bring them joy. Throughout the week, purposely set aside time to have them engage in these activities to begin establishing this practice of savouring.Eventually, the goal is to learn how to savour a pleasant experience in real time as it is occurring naturally throughout the day.
6. Develop Emotion Regulation Skills. The pandemic has led to significant emotional challenges. Feelings of anxiety, fear, frustration, and overwhelm have become an all-too-common experience for many. The ability to regulate our emotions is a key component to building resilience as it allows us to better able cope with and adapt to stressful situations. Practice using the following three steps to help your child learn how to regulate difficult emotions:
· Name the emotion. Ask your child to name the emotion they are feeling. For children who have difficulty identifying their emotions, it may be helpful to print off a list of emotion words (there are tons of child friendly emotion lists with visuals online)! You can then go one step further and ask your child to identify where they feel that emotion in their body - perhaps butterflies in their stomach or a funny feeling in their chest.
· Practice self-soothing. After the difficult emotion has been identified, it’s time to help your child regulate all the uncomfortable emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations they may be experiencing through self-soothing. There are a variety of ways a child (and adult) can do this. For example, (a) practicing deep breathing; (b) engaging their senses by naming three things they can see, two things they can touch, and one thing they can hear; (c) having them tense and release different muscle groups one by one, starting with their feet and working through the body moving all the way up to the head/face muscles.
· Practice self-compassion. The final step is to remind your child to be kind and gentle with themselves. These are difficult times, and it is normal to experience difficult emotions. Have your child think about what they may say to a friend who was experiencing the same thing and then offering those words of support and kindness to themselves. For example, “feeling scared is hard, but it is normal to feel scared sometimes. If anyone else were in my shoes they would probably be feeling the same thing.”
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