kristin joy miller
Stress Isn't All Bad
We live in a world where it’s tempting for parents to try and “work everything out” for our children, shielding them from all forms of stress. However, it’s becoming clear that there may be real benefit to our children when we resist that temptation. Sound strange? It’s true. When we allow our children to face appropriate struggles and challenges, we are actually helping them develop an important life skill called resilience. And experts at the Child Mind Institute tell us that resilience is fostered as a result of dealing with obstacles and even stress. And resilience is a very good thing.
Resilience at its core is the ability to adapt positively when life throws you a curve ball. It means you can overcome obstacles and keep moving forward. The need for resilience comes from the reality of stress and many forms of stress can aid in the development of resilience. And while as parents, our instinct is to shield our kids from as much stress as possible, for a child, stressful events can build inner strength and teach them how to utilize their external support systems like parents, teachers, coaches, and even friends. And that’s important for them in the long run.
A child who is resilient is typically adaptable and optimistic. They can keep things in perspective which helps them manage negative emotions. Resilient kids won’t give up when challenges arise and they can problem solve when confronted with difficulties and disappointments. They will persevere and can even thrive when the going gets tough.
Every parent would like to see these kinds of qualities in their child, so how do we get there?
Parents play a crucial role in building a caring home environment that fosters the social and emotional skills needed to build resilience in our children. Being committed to positive interactions with our children—like affirmation and encouragement—promotes their health and well-being. And if we also allow appropriate challenges and even stressful situations to present themselves, within that caring environment, resilience can result.
Keeping the word SPACE in mind is a handy way to remember the best ways to facilitate resilience in our kids.
Support. A supportive environment is key to raising resilient kids. This includes actively listening and providing positive feedback.
Problem Solve. Letting problems arise for our kids, which isn’t always easy for parents, sets up opportunity to work together to develop alternatives, to persevere through difficulties, and to reflect on the process.
Affirm. Praise is a highly effective resilience builder. Parents who affirm the strengths and efforts of their kids will soon find them bouncing back from disappointments and developing a determined willingness to try again.
Cheer. Any and all effort can and should be cheered on by parents. Celebrating successes, even the small ones, will pay dividends.
Empower. Resilience grows when kids are allowed to make some decisions. When they are encouraged to share their ideas and opinions and empowered to make and implement plans, even if they fail, children will become comfortable with assessing and tackling challenges.
Giving SPACE works best within a highly supportive and responsive environment. This means striving to meet your child’s needs and being present with them. Children feel supported when we regularly and intentionally encourage them with comments like “I believe in you” and “I know you can do it.” This builds their self-confidence and provides them with important reassurance to try new or challenging things. It’s also important to be a positive role model by setting a good example, especially with social skills. In our homes, more is caught than taught and much of the behavior we see in our children can be traced back to our example.
If you set realistic expectations, assign appropriate responsibilities like chores, and work to be consistent with daily routines, you will be rewarded for your efforts. Keeping an eye on progress and watching for unwarranted levels of frustration will allow you to assess, encourage, and adjust as needed. Taking these steps will result in resilient kids willing to confront and persevere through challenges.
The good news is that you don’t have to eliminate all the stress from your child’s life. It can serve a good and healthy purpose by working to build resilience. And when that resilience muscle is well-defined, your kid will know how to persevere through tough times. With your encouragement and guidance, your child doesn’t have to see setbacks and roadblocks as the end of the world. Instead, your resilient kid will problem solve, dig deep, and to bounce back from whatever life throws at them.
And who doesn’t want that?
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AAP. The Resilience Project. (2019). We can stop toxic stress. Retrieved from https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/resilience/Pages/Promoting-Resilience.aspx.
AAP. (2019). The Road to Resilience. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.
Child Mind Institute. What’s wrong with helicopter parenting? Retrieved from https://childmind.org/article/whats-wrong-with-helicopter-parenting/.
Ministry of Education Singapore. Resilience Boosters.
Ministry of Education Singapore. Resilience-Fostering Interactions.