A part of our job as parents, and grown ups as a whole, is to prepare our young ones as best as possible for the life and times in the big wide world. Instinctively we want to protect our kids from discomfort, hurt, hardship and anything else we perceive as less than awesome. Unfortunately, this is not only impossible but also pretty unhelpful and certainly not doing anybody any favours. Building small humans into healthy, thriving big ones isn’t about clearing adversity out of their way. A healthy dose of reality and a touch of stress is life-giving and helps them to develop the skills they need to flourish. Strengthening them towards healthy living is about nurturing within them the strategies to deal with that adversity. Here’s a few thoughts on the how’s.
All of these come under the umbrella of the 3PM’S. People, Psychological, Physical, Meaning and Security/Stability. For any Kiwi’s reading this then its my take of Te Whare Tapa Wha but with some subtle tweaks.
1. Resilience needs relationships, not uncompromising independence.
Research tells us that it’s not rugged self-reliance, determination or inner strength that leads kids through adversity, but the reliable presence of at least one supportive relationship. In the context of a loving relationship with a caring adult, children have the opportunity to develop vital coping skills. The presence of a responsive adult can also help to reverse the physiological changes that are activated by stress. This will ensure that the developing brain, body and immune system are protected from the damaging effects of these physiological changes. Anyone in the life of a child can make a difference – family, teachers, coaches – anyone.
2. Increase their exposure to people who care about them.
Let them know who is on their team and let them hear and see it.
Social support is associated with higher positive emotions, a sense of personal control and predictability, self-esteem, motivation, optimism, a resilience. Kids won’t always notice the people who are in their corner cheering them on, so when you can, let them know about the people in their fan club. Anything you can do to build their connection with the people who love them will strengthen them.
‘I told Grandma/ Aunty how brave you were. She’s so proud of you.’
Let them know that it’s okay to ask for help. Children will often have the idea that being brave is about dealing with things by themselves. Let them know that being brave and strong means knowing when to ask for help. If there is anything they can do themselves, guide them towards that but resist carrying them there. Quite often the bravest and most courageous thing to do is reach out for a helping hand.
3. Encourage a regular mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness creates structural and functional changes in the brain that support a healthy response to stress. It strengthens the calming, rational prefrontal cortex and reduces activity in the instinctive, impulsive amygdala. It also strengthens the connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. When this connection is strong, the calming prefrontal cortex will have more of a hand in decisions and behaviour. I am a big fan of this wee gem and the importance of making sure we take this incredible resource to the young ones rather than trying to deliver an adult version to very different needs, and expecting the young ones to respond to an hour long chant fest. There are so many amazingly innovative and engaging activities that are all ready and waiting to be shared.
4. Get moving.
Exercise strengthens and reorganises the brain to make it more resilient to stress. One of the ways it does this is by increasing the neurochemicals that can calm the brain in times of stress. Anything that gets kids moving is just awesome! Move, move and then move some more! In adult land, exercise is suggested to be equally as effective as medication in raising mood levels. Have fun with it, this is an area that we as ‘oldies’ can learn so much from our kids around playing and being present in the moment.
5. The Power of ‘YET’
Rather than getting stuck in what we can’t do, focus on the power of yet.
” You can’t do it yet. So, whats the first step that needs to happen to move closer to achieving it”
Nurture that feeling in them – that one that reminds them they can do hard things. You’ll be doing this every time you acknowledge their strengths, the brave things they do, their effort when they do something difficult; and when you encourage them to make their own decisions. When they have a sense of mastery, they are less likely to be reactive to future stress and more likely to handle future challenges.
‘You’re a legend when it comes to trying hard things. You’ve got what it takes. Keep going. You’ll get there.’
To read about the other 10 steps, please click here.