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Preparing Ground for Resiliency

Contributed by Jody McVittie, MD

When I give parenting talks parents share their hope that their children will grow up to have resilience. They want their children to be able to have the inner strength to keep trying when things don’t turn out perfectly, to be able to come back from disappointment and to take on challenges. But they wonder about to get their children from here to there. Where to start? What builds resilience in children?

One thing people with resilience have in common is a supportive network. You are your child’s first and most important “network of support.” You establish the ground from which they can learn, take risks, make mistakes and come back to safety. With solid ground beneath them children have more ability to overcome challenges.

Last summer I was teaching a workshop at the Family Medicine Department at Thornton Place and had the opportunity to eat outside in the sunshine. A mother, one of her friends and her two children, a boy about 4 and a girl about 2, sat a little bit away from me. After they finished their lunch the children began to play in the fountain. At first they ventured near enough to feel a little spray – and then ran back to Mom. They then returned to the fountain, this time getting a little closer…and then ran back to Mom. Each time their mother would briefly pause her conversation with her friend, meet her child’s eyes, match the child’s excitement and sense of discovery and the child would leave and run back to the water. Over and over they ran back and forth daring to get a little closer (and a little wetter) each time. Each time they returned to mom, she welcomed them – and then they ran back. It was fun to watch the boy become more courageous. He took slightly bigger risks and ran back less and less frequently while the 2-year-old ran many more trips to her mother and back as it took longer to find her sense of safety playing in the water on that warm summer day.

You can create stable ground for your child so that he or she can take on challenges and become resilient in many different ways. Here are some more:

You notice that when your child is hurting it hurts you too. You are able to calm yourself so can notice and acknowledge your child’s disappointment, hurt and let them find some inner resources before you rush to help. Your children learn that unpleasant feelings come and then they go.

During some of the challenging moments in your family you are able to appreciate your child’s strengths. (Right. Very few of us can do this in the moment – but even afterwards makes a difference.) It can seem like she is stubborn, but through that you can see her persistence and determination. He seems emotional and you can appreciate his sensitivity. When you can see the human being, the whole child, behind the behavior your children learn that they have strengths and that they are capable.

You model the courage to be imperfect by sharing some of your struggles, your mistakes and your challenges. Your child learns that he doesn’t need to be perfect, that he can make mistakes, fix them and learn from them.

You model gratitude by sharing what you appreciate when it comes up or part of a dinner or bedtime ritual. Your children learn that even when things are a bit rough, there is always room for gratitude.

You are your children’s landing pad and you’re building resiliency…little bit by little bit.

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Photo Credit: Sean Dreilinger