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The goal of parenting should be about providing guidance and setting boundaries, rather than being a friend; it can be helpful to hold in mind the idea of being a ‘teacher’ or ‘coach’ as an approach to parenting. Supportive relationships are key to resilience, which is covered in this blog.
It can feel like an impossible task, to give our children enough attention. The best we can do, is to make our limited time count. Show a genuine interest in your child’s opinions, allowing them space to explain themselves clearly, encouraging all family members to listen respectfully.
Notice the time of day your child likes to talk and open up – is it when you are walking to school or the shops, on car trips or as you are tucking them in to bed at night? Try and ensure that at the times when they are looking for connection, and you are able to give it, that you make that ten minutes count. Pop your phone away to remove the temptation. Give them eye contact, share smiles or concerns, and even better when sharing pleasurable experiences encourage your child to paint an elaborate picture of the context so they can re-live this positive experience as they share it with you. Martin Seligman calls this ‘Positive Savouring’ and has found it heightens and prolongs positive emotions. Ask questions such as ‘Who was there? What were their reactions? Was this something your child was expecting?’
It is pretty hard to over-do-it on the empathy front. By expressing empathy when your child shares difficult feelings, you are listening attentively, and showing that you understand how they are feeling. You are sending a message that their emotional response Is real and important. When children feel understood, they feel less alone, more connected and as a result are more likely to communicate in future.
You can also encourage them to show empathy to others; when their friend experiences an everyday hurdle, ask your child, ‘How do you think your friend might be feeling?’
Most children enjoy social contact with school or family friends when meet-ups are arranged. Through free play with friends or siblings, they learn essential skills such as sharing and cooperation; at times you may need to use a disagreement as a coaching opportunity, and with an older child helping them problem-solve and work through different solutions to the dilemma they are facing. In treating our child and others around us in a calm and respectful way, we are modelling appropriate friendly behaviours.
It is also important to promote their awareness of their wider context in their family and community. If they have a positive relationship with Grandparents, cousins, other friends or family members help foster these relationships through regular meet-ups or for those who live further away you can send photos, email, or video-call.
Try and attend as many school events, assemblies or outings, as possible, to show an interest in, and strengthen the connection with your child’s educational environment, getting to know staff, the child’s friends and other parents.
Both children and parents alike, need a connection to their friends and community for support through difficult times; this can require a huge effort for a parent who is feeling vulnerable, so try to make catch-ups manageable such as a quick trip to the local playground after school or on a weekend.
When you find you are losing your cool and raising your voice occasionally, don’t be afraid to say sorry to your child, and acknowledge that you sometimes make mistakes and are willing to take responsibility for them.
Use ‘Tippy says… Place your hand on your heart and breathe’ exercise, which is helpful for both parents and children to regulate themselves.
If you get overwhelmed, and are becoming very angry, aggressive, threatening, critical or feel like lashing out physically, then it is time to get professional help and consider whether there are areas of your life that you can change to regain better balance. Indeed, unresolved martial issues will have an impact on your child’s resilience.
The research evidence is conclusive, by looking after ourselves, our relationships and supporting our own resilience as parents, we are a much better resource for our child.
Sign up to our Weaverbirds newsletter for, parts 3 and 4 of the Boosting Resilience Blog Series, regular information on other ways to support your child over life’s hurdles. Visit our website for activities and to create personalised stories to support difficult conversations.
More information and the Science behind the blog
Dweck, Carol S, (2008). Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books
Garmezy, N., & Devine, V. T. (1984). Project Competence: The Minnesota studies of children vulnerable to psychopathology. In N. Watt, J. Rolf, & E. J. Anthony (Eds.), Children at risk for schizophrenia (pp. 287–303). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Seligman, M.E.P. (2002). Authentic happiness. New York: Free Press.
Masten, A & Tellegen, A (2012). Resilience in developmental psychopathology: Contributions of the Project Competence Longitudinal Study. Development and Psychopathology 24 (2012), 345–361
Beyond Blue Ltd. (2017). Building resilience in children aged 0–12: A practice guide.