Are Children Naturally Resilient?
We want to trust our children’s capacity to handle life’s difficulties and swe do not want to over-protect them. If we, as parents, jump in too quickly to solve problems for our children we may hinder their ability to develop their own problem solving skills. As children learn how to solve problems, they develop their capacity to be creative and realize they have an impact in their world. The world we live in is not always safe and kind and we need to have confidence that our children can ultimately handle this imperfect world.
However, when children have faced an overwhelming life event they often need help processing what they have seen and how they feel. When a child faces stressors or challenges, we do not want to over-estimate their ability to handle it on their own. The consequence of not supporting children to process traumatic events may be a loss of creative, intellectual, or social potential.
“Ideally, we give children the right amount of independence and challenge balanced with sufficient support and safety.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Raising Resilient Children
Resilience is our ability to adapt well in the face of adversity; it means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences. As a strength-based psychologist, I apply research on resilience to my work with children and families. Caring adults raise resilient children by assisting them to make sense of their lives and feel more capable within their social, emotional, and cognitive development.
As parents, compassionate support systems help us access our resiliency so that we can help our children develop their resilience. Resilient children are nurtured by caring adults who can help them actively express their experience.
- Younger children may better express themselves through play or drawing their experience with an attentive adult.
- Older children benefit from conversations that reflect emotions, explore difficult decisions, and examine the meanings children make about their experiences.
When Children Throw you a Curve Ball
Being with a child who is struggling leads most parents to feel angry or scared. Especially when:
- “My child won’t go to sleep or stay asleep!”
- “My son is aggressive and is hitting me or his younger sister!”
- “My daughter used to go to school just fine and now she clings and won’t separate from me when I drop her off for first grade!”
- “My child is tuning me out and just doesn’t listen to me!”
Sometimes we react or shut down our children because of our fears and uncomfortable emotions. To want to push our children away or run away from our children is a normal and biologically driven response when we are afraid. However, I invite you to view your child’s “curve balls” as a call to engage your child, to look beneath the behavior, and to connect to their inner world.
Knowing that you sometimes experience anger when you are vulnerable and afraid can help you reflectively turn towards your child’s difficult behaviors that arise out of their vulnerabilities and fears.
Resilience is for Parents Too
For parents, resilience allows us to respond creatively to the challenges inherent in raising our children. Parents need support through compassionate relationships with partners, other parents, and when necessary, therapists, to help us explore the deeper themes of reactions to children and how this may be connected to the past. Being a resilient parent
- Getting support to learn from your obstacles so you can support your children to learn from thier struggles.
- Accepting that you are imperfect so you can be kinder towards your children’s mistakes.
- Recognizing that you do not have all the answers so that you are more accepting when children feel lost or confused.
- Remember that you like being loved and known for who you are so that you can aim to love and know your children for who they are.
On an airplane, they will always tell the adults to put their oxygen mask on first – then help your child to put theirs on. The same is true with resilience: When adults feel supported they are better able to support their children.
Resilience Informed Therapy
As human beings we can all get “stuck” sometimes. There is no need to feel ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help whether it is for yourself or your child. Resilience informed therapy recognizes that when parents and children feel safe and supported you are able to access your creativity, strength, and capacity to handle life’s challenges.
About Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. Dr. Schwartz is the author of The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole. She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic (body-centered) psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like Dr. Arielle Schwartz on Facebook, follow her on Linkedin and sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all her posts.