As parents, we are aware that life has its own share of ups and downs. We also realise that it is inevitable that at some point in time or the other we will be faced with situations laced in uncertainty due to circumstances beyond our control. What we may not always realise though that it is not always possible to shield our children from all such difficulties and more importantly may not always be helpful to do so in the long run. Indeed how we deal with life’s stressors can determine whether we will bounce back from challenges or be broken by them. As parents, it then becomes our responsibility to teach our children healthy strategies to cope with stress and uncertainty. Also, as our children learn that all “stress” is not bad, they start to transform their relationship to it.
One of our most important responsibilities as parents is to help our children develop healthy skills, habits, and perspectives from a young age; this will help them deal with life’s uncertainties and stressors. In other words, it will make them more resilient
In order to deal with challenges effectively, we really need a change in our mindset, in our way of thinking. But this change needs to start with YOU. This is because children are very tuned into their parent’s feelings and use their parents as a model for behaviour and as a mirror for their own feelings.
So, the way that we handle our own mistakes, challenges and the relationship that we have with ourselves play a key role in how our children shape up in their adult life later on.
Being a “good enough” parent is "enough"
There is no perfect parent. It is a myth.
We simply need to find a way to be absolutely fine with being a “good enough” mother or father
It is way more important to show up and be around our children than to strive for “perfection” in our parenting style
It is way more important to find ways of creating and holding space for our children especially when they are not at their best. This means that we need to be there for the child who is angry, frustrated, sad and disappointed without getting carried away ourselves or withdrawing from their pain
It is way more important to model the way that we deal with our own mistakes; by forgiving ourselves when things go wrong so that we can bounce back from our failures
It is way more important have a good relationship with ourselves and be comfortable who we are and the life we lead; our children learn from what they see us doing much more than any instruction or advice that we give them
It is way more important to celebrate the child that we have instead of wishing for the ideal child that we had visualised for ourselves; in comparing with others we miss out on many opportunities to appreciate our children for they REALLY are and deepen our connection and our attachment with them
As someone had said “There is no such thing as a real parent. So just be a real one”
Roots and wings
What our children really need from us is NOT to focus on ways to eliminate stress and hardship for them (this exercise is rather futile) but to teach them and show them ways to cope with such difficult times. In today’s age of digital hyperconnectivity, parenting matters more than ever before. Mental health issues and in some extreme cases suicide in teenagers and young children have sky rocketed.
(There are many reasons for this and I will address this in my webinar on mindful and strength-based parenting and the importance of attachment relationship later this month- I will be posting updates on my website ans well as my Facebook page - Nourish Heal Connect)
The basic response to a stressor is either a “fight or flight” response or a “freeze and submit” response. While the first response helps us gear up for a threat (whether real or imagined), the second response makes us turn inwards and shut down. Both responses are not helpful in many kinds of situations especially when children (and adults) are not really tuned into their emotions and self awareness is low.
There is a third type of response that is more purposeful and effective and that is a “tend and befriend” response. This helps us to focus on what we can do for ourselves as well as others at the same time allowing us to accept ALL that we are feeling at that moment without trying to change or avoid it. This also enables us to reach out for help when we need it the most. This kind of response fosters a connection with ourselves and others and helps children the most when they have a benevolent adult (usually a parent) that they can turn to.
If we can teach our children to be more present in their actions and be more aware of their emotions, it would help them reduce stress, increase focus, be more empathetic, and stay calm—just like it does for adults. In other words, becoming more “mindful” really helps and I will be covering this in another post on "mindful and strength based parenting".
All that I have discussed so far is key to fostering resiliency in children and I have summarised them below.
What are some of the ways that we can foster resilience in our children?
- We can help them create a “Circle of control”- to remind them that there are things which are out of their control and therefore, no need to stress and worry about them
- We can teach our children to reframe the way we think about stress so that they understand that all stress is not inherently bad. Rather, if they are stressed about getting good grades, making new friends- what it really means that they really care about it
- Just knowing that they are not alone in facing a difficult situation really helps- many times it is enough to know that they are a part of a loving family who cares enough about them to show up
- One of the most effective ways of teaching our children to be optimistic, strong and always have hope is to help them to cultivate a GROWTH mindset. This is done by focussing on a child’s strengths rather than her weaknesses. Showing our children their strengths and enabling them to use them especially during difficult times is one most powerful lessons we teach our children
- Inculcating a contemplative practice like mindfulness in our own lives as parents and then imbibing it in our children; these kind of practices create an internal space which enable us (amongst other things) to work through difficult emotions like pain, anger, frustration and is a powerful tool for healing
- Be a model for and teach our children the value of self compassion; being able to forgive ourselves for making mistakes is key to bouncing back from failure
As someone had said “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One is roots, the other wings”.