How are you doing? Life is weird, a little scary, and pretty stressful right now. People are struggling with so many life stressors, many of which have been exacerbated during this period of upheaval, physical distancing and quarantine. I know you are doing the best you can right now, and that’s enough. In light of these unusual circumstances we find ourselves in, we decided to revisit a previous post on resilience and update it for our current situation.
When we talk about resilience, we’re talking about being able to meet challenges and changes in life and not be mowed down by them, and optimally, achieve a positive outcome. This certainly does not mean that being resilient in the face of challenge means you aren’t affected, that you don’t feel upset, or struggle. It means that you are not crushed by challenges. You do not give up or deteriorate when faced with difficulties and adversity. It is also true that not everyone will respond to the same situation with the same resilience. We all have different capacities for resilience in the face of stressors, and this has to do with our early life experience.
Developing resilient thinking
One of the first places to start is with mindset. Where are our thoughts going? The more we ruminate on all the unknowns, the what-ifs, the worst-case scenarios, the more helpless, out of control and anxious we will feel.
An important factor in emotional resiliency is feeling like you have some sense of control in the situation. Understanding that a stressful situation is not permanent, and that you have the capacity to find solutions can really help. This doesn’t mean that we must feel like we can completely change the situation-just that there are things within our power to help us cope with or overcome difficulty. Having a sense of control in our daily lives is important to our mental health. How can you help yourself and your kids turn your focus more towards the moment? What can you get a handle on in the space around you? What good choices are you going to make for yourself and your loved ones today?
Coaching children to use solutions-focused thinking
When we know that our child is struggling through a difficult time, it is normal to want to take away or remove these bad feelings. We might cuddle them, display matching concern, or try to fix the problem for them. Or we might go in the opposite direction and want to toughen them up by telling them “It’s fine” or “Don’t feel sad”. If we want to take a resilience-building approach, we can listen to children’s struggles, help them name what they’re feeling in a calm way, and support them to think about how they might do something about the situation. In essence you’re letting them know, “I see you, I hear you, your thoughts and feelings matter, and I’m here to help”. We may not be able to remove the stressor, but we can coach our kids to build their coping and problem-solving skills, and practice seeing difficulties as challenges to tackle rather than feeling helpless in the face of challenging circumstances.
Routines and schedules
It is much easier to not worry about routines and schedules if your usual schedule is suddenly gone. Providing consistent and predictable routines supports children’s resilience, especially in the face of change or life stress. This allows them to put more of their effort into coping and self-management around challenging or unpredictable stressors, because the rest of their world and routine is for the most part predictable. You may be surprised how much a consistent routine helps you too! This doesn’t mean to schedule every minute of every day, but try to chunk out your day into routines, morning routine, school and work time, breaks throughout the day, exercise, and meal times for example.
Time together, time apart
Speaking of routines, do you have a little time and space to yourself? When we are living in a confined space with the same people for prolonged periods we may start to feel stuck or frustrated with the people around us. Could you schedule a few minutes a day for alone time? Even if it’s in the same space, build everyone a fort in the living room and spend 15 minutes of quiet time alone while the baby sleeps. Or wake up a little early and spend 10 minutes just focusing on the sensation of your breath moving in and out.
Just as important in this time of physical and social distancing, make time to connect with friends and family. Talk on the phone, or video chat with friends and family, try to make it part of your schedule.
When children are in situations where they need to draw on their resiliency, the first step is to be able to manage emotions and reactions to difficult situations. This does not mean that they shouldn’t have any uncomfortable feelings. Instead, it means that they are not completely overrun with powerful feelings that leave them hopeless and unable to cope, or lashing out in harmful ways. This aspect of development is huge, and we have other posts here and here about how to build emotion management and regulation skills. One of the best things we can do to help our kids and ourselves manage our emotions in these times is to not wait for difficult emotions before we act. Prevention is emotion management. The following ideas can be used in the moment when emotions arise, but I encourage you to enact them now as well.
- Physical movement – Walk outside if you can. Practice physical distancing, avoid playgrounds, but try to get out in nature. There are also so many free exercise, yoga, and gross motor ideas on YouTube. Challenge each other to a movement video a day and make it part of your routine, or even make a challenge chart and give yourself a gold star when you make the time for movement.
- Deep breathing and mindfulness – Taking slow, deep breaths and putting our focus on the sensation of breathing or doing a body scan exercise helps to bring our body back to calm.
- Shifting our thoughts – Change your focus to thinking of others, what you are grateful for, or doing something kind for other people.
- Helping, volunteering, and doing kindnesses for others – This is also a way to support our own sense of purpose and community which is harder to find in times of social distancing. How can you continue to support and reach out to others without physically being there?
- Instead of trying to get kids, especially young children, to talk through their feelings like an adult might, spend more time playing with them, drawing and making crafts as ways to connect with them, and also as ways to work through the feelings they may be experiencing.
Self-compassion and understanding
Above all, have kindness towards yourself and understanding for those around you. We are all doing our best in difficult and unknown circumstances. Talk to yourself and comfort yourself the way a good friend might. Remember, if you wouldn’t say the things in your head to a dear friend, don’t say them to yourself.
During times of stress or upheaval, it is not unusual for children to show more difficult behaviors. Often kids react to anxiety or uncertainty by acting out. They need extra understanding and grace right now. Don’t underestimate the helpfulness of keeping kids busy and on a predictable schedule and routine. And this doesn’t mean busy with only work. Being busy with play and exploration is incredibly important to children’s senses of well-being and mental health. Include self-care and downtime in their routines as well.
Because resilience is a skill, we can continue to grow our own resilience, and those of the children we are close to. We all develop different capacities for resiliency depending on our past experiences and support. The good news is: we can build on whatever resilience ability we have so far, even as adults. With hard work and thoughtfulness, we can all begin to grow our own abilities, and those of the children we care for, to become more resilient.
Text: © Kids In Transition to School 2020
Image: © Bravissimos | Dreamstime.com