As students take a well-deserved break from focusing on academics for the summer, families can encourage growth in other important developmental areas.
One of these areas that can most benefit a child, now and later in life, is resilience. Resilience is the ability to persist or thrive in the face of challenges and recover or bounce back from adverse experiences. Everyone faces adversity and challenges in life; our children are no exception. They, too, will face failures, trauma, stressors and other risk factors. Developing resilience can give children and adolescents tools to succeed in life despite those challenges.
Summer is a great time to help foster skills related to resilience. In almost any context, parents can discuss these strategies or encourage these thought patterns in their whole family, adults and children alike.
We all have impulsive thoughts and tendencies. We should not expect children or adults to control every single impulse. Rather, we should teach children not to act on every impulse they have. Learning to “stop and think” before acting on the thought is critical for learning to control impulses that may lead to negative consequences. Impulse control may seem difficult right now, but the great news is that it is a skill your children can learn with practice.
Summer socializing is a great context for learning how to view a situation from multiple points of view and think flexibly about problems. Encourage your children to think critically about a variety of options and plans for solving problems. Teach them to think of a variety of factors that may have led to a situation or problem. Be an example of “rolling with the punches” and being positive when having to be flexible.
Harvard Health research on optimism shows that optimistic people are happier, healthier and have better relationships. They also solve problems better, are productive and less likely to become depressed. Optimism is a significant protective factor for children, particularly in preventing depression and anxiety. However, it is important to note the word “realistic” in realistic optimism. Do not deny or ignore that bad things happen. Rather, acknowledge those negative life events like making mistakes. Move forward with an optimistic view of the future and plans for making the negative situation better. You can encourage this in your family by reframing negative thoughts through an optimistic or “glass half-full” lens.
Believing in yourself or having self-confidence is a fantastic skill for all children to have. Resilient children believe that they are effective in the world. Encourage your family members to be aware. Encourage them to vocalize their strengths and weaknesses and how those can help them navigate life.
It is important not to confuse self-efficacy with self-esteem. Self-esteem is feeling good about ourselves, which is still important. Self-efficacy is how we affect change in the world or how we rely on our skills to make progress in life.
Emotional awareness and expression
Resilient children and adults can identify their own emotions and express them appropriately. This includes both positive and negative emotions. When your child is struggling or upset, discuss their feelings with them. Help them identify the words for how they were or are feeling. Discuss how they can verbally express that or what it looks like when we feel certain emotions. Be an example for your family by listening empathetically and validating feelings. Help your children label feelings in ways that are age appropriate. Lastly, help them come up with ways to solve problems or situations that are upsetting.
Help your children learn how to connect with others. Having an enduring relationship with even one caring adult is a huge protective factor. It’s important that children can take perspectives of others and care about others. They need to be interested in others’ experiences and feelings and want to help others through difficulties. These are important skills for creating strong and healthy friendships. Practice taking other perspectives and identifying how others may be feeling.
Taking appropriate risks can help children expand their horizons without engaging in dangerous behavior. Resilient children don’t view failure as something to avoid at all costs, and they are willing to try new activities and experiences. We learn and grow by taking risks with new things, and the process for mastering those new skills includes failing.
Encouraging your children to get up and keep trying is critical. It helps them develop a growth mindset. They develop confidence in their ability to grow rather than sticking with what they are naturally good at already.
Good physical health and habits help prepare our mind and body to tackle life and remain resilient. Make healthy decisions for your family about food. Discuss the importance of healthy eating habits with your children and encourage them to be curious about trying new foods. Make sure bedtime routines and sleep hygiene remains intact over the summer with your children’s less-structured schedule. Encourage exercise and getting outside! This may mean limiting screen time and sticking to the limits or giving your children ideas about what to play outside.
Take some time this summer to grow your child’s and your own resiliency! Some of these skills may already be very developed, and others may need more energy and focus to grow. We can always be more resilient tomorrow than we are today.