How to help children cope with changes in their lives? | EFE

As we begin to see tourists arriving, the cafes and restaurants opening and summer schools being offered many would welcome the move out of the pandemic restrictions, but don’t be too harsh if your children are a little reticent.

Depending on their personality type and life experiences some will relish the challenge of getting out and about now, whilst others will be cautious and even scared. There is no right or wrong way here, it just simply is, and once again the most helpful parenting response will be to notice and be fully present to go at our children’s pace rather than our own.

One reason some children will embrace the changes again now is that they have developed resilience. That ability to respond to challenges with a healthy positivity. Becky Diamond writing for Psychology Today in February this year had noticed that her son was very cautious post strict lockdown and was saying no to a lot of activities that he had previously enjoyed like going to the park.

Being a journalist she natural researched the story of the children who have gone through the pandemic and she writes that there was a simple answer:“help him build resilience. Studies show that people who face moderate adversity and stress build that all-important life skill we call resilience. It’s the ability to bounce back. To cope with discomfort by experiencing it, not by avoiding it. Mental health experts say that people who are resilient are likely to be happier and healthier”.

I think the key issue here lies in the words “To cope with discomfort by experiencing it, not by avoiding it”. For so many of us we live in a time when either we avoid discomfort or seek a quick fix to be rid of it. We naturally don’t like feeling fear, disgust, loneliness and the easiest way to deal with it is to deny or repair/replace with a nicer feeling.

In the long run though we are doing our children a disservice if we fix to overprotect, and Becky Diamond shares her thoughts further in terms of how to build resilience in our children:
“To Sum It Up: As strange as it may seem, COVID has actually helped me discover the steps my son needed to take to build resilience—and they aren’t that hard. With a weekly courage challenge, Marty (her 8 year old son) learned how to take risks, get out of his comfort zone, and make choices that made him feel in control of his own destiny. And his mental health is stronger than ever.

3 Ways to Help a Child Build Resilience

Suggest a weekly courage challenge.
Help kids find ways to try new things that feel different and scary. Child psychologists say that when kids have more experience managing uncertainty, they develop flexibility and learn to tolerate distress. Author Caroline Miller, a positive psychology coach who studies grit and resilience, tells me the only way that kids develop these life skills “is by going out of their comfort zone.”

Resist the urge to fix.
Support kids as they feel uncomfortable but leave the problem-solving to them. Ellen O’Donnell, a child psychologist who teaches at Harvard Medical School says, “Let them feel angry, frustrated, anxious and realize that they will make it through.” She said parents can offer comfort and support, but “that’s different than fixing their problem for them.”

Let them play.
Build in free time for your kids to play but don’t hover. Peter Gray, the evolutionary psychologist at Boston College, urged me to schedule fewer adult-supervised activities. He told me, “The whole purpose of childhood is to become increasingly independent. The way children learn to be adults is by being away from adults, learning to solve their own problems.” He suggests finding age-appropriate ways for kids to take risks and build confidence, without being reckless. For younger kids, he recommends free play.”

Whilst Becky Diamond says this is simple, it may be simple as a process but not easy for parents who believe our job is to protect our children at all costs. Again, I go back to the notion that children are really already themselves, separate and unique, right from birth. Yes we need to practically and psychological protect them, but from their selves not from ourselves.

Parenting involves us taking a look at our own issues and how we may be projecting them onto our children, even if this was initially unconscious. Babies are born for mastery, they naturally explore their world and want to feel a sense of agency, so in fact Becky may have a point, it is easy if we step into noticer mode, sit alongside our children and guide them with questions or suggestions rather than telling them what and what not to do or say.

If we can start out with this notion, children naturally build the resilience they need for handling their lives in a healthier way. Or, if like Becky you realise that due to the pandemic your children have not had the opportunity to take small risks, then, over time and with the strategies suggested above, our children can learn resilience.

If we notice a tendency to fix in our own response to our children feeling discomfort around a challenge, then we have probably moved in the “adolescent chair”. This is the modus operandi of quick results, avoiding pain and quickly moving on. These fixes are short term and help neither us nor our children. Remaining in the “adult chair” we are able to reflect with honesty and help ourselves.

As Becky writes after her son chose to ride home from school on his bike: “I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I was nervous. He had to ride on the side of a well-travelled road. I thought of all of the things that could go wrong, and I realized this was my courage challenge too.”

What courage challenges are around for you?