Building A Resilient Family
Families today face challenges that are very different to those faced by previous generations. We live in an era marked by instability, breakdown of traditional family structures, and chronic busyness. Many parents work extended hours and carry work pressures home, and our children juggle demanding schedules and their own academic workload. Our children are also growing and developing against a backdrop of burgeoning technology and frequent social media use, early sexualization, drug and alcohol abuse, and compromised privacy and boundaries. Statistics reveal that our children are frequently sleep deprived, and are often feeling anxious and insecure at school and at home. Often times it may feel like we are fighting hard to protect the wellbeing of our children and ourselves in the face of a rising tide of pressure and societal change. Building a resilient family has become more difficult, and yet more important than ever. Every family faces its own unique challenges, whether it be navigating family breakdown, co-parenting, disability or financial stress, but the skills needed to face the challenges this world presents remain fairly constant. We can not turn back the tide and change the circumstances that our children, and our families, will face, but we can equip them with some knowledge and tools that will empower them to handle the unique challenge they face with resilience.
The word resilient means to recover, or bounce back, from adversity. Consider a branch that is dry and brittle from lack of nourishment and exposure to the elements. When bent it will snap easily, while a strong branch, or the stem of green sapling, may bend under force, but will return to its original form when the pressure is removed. Our children have the benefit of youth on their side, but still need to develop the type of inner fortitude that allows them to be resolute under pressure and pick themselves back up after significant challenge. To fall should never be seen as a problem; as long as we can discuss the lessons learnt from their stumble. Failure should not be something children fear, or attempt to avoid, or they will miss many opportunities for joy, growth and success. Instead, by encouraging positive risk-taking (for e.g. entering a new competition, trying something physically challenging, or even asking a new friend to play), and modeling this behaviour in our own life, we teach our children that feared situations are nothing more than an unmet challenge, or an opportunity for learning and building resilience.
Linked very much to positive risk-taking, and to resilience, is encouraging a growth mindset in our children. Individuals with a growth mindset believe that physical and intellectual abilities are not simply innate; but can be developed with effort. Children who approach learning, along with physical and emotional challenges, this way are more likely to persist in the face of a set-back, and during difficult tasks. They also develop a sense of their own personal agency; that they have the resources to improve their abilities, coping skills and level of achievement. If the desired outcome is to learn and improve, rather than succeed or be the best, a child will be constantly motivated by their own personal growth. By exposing our children to opportunities to stretch their capabilities, and praising them for effort, strategy and action, rather than results, we encourage a love of learning and being challenged, that will set them up to persist and grow through adversity.
In addition, taking time-out as a family, and individually, to rejuvenate and fill our tanks, teaches our children that energy is not limitless, and that we must have boundaries and take care of our bodies, minds and each other, in order to be resilient. The world we live in glorifies busyness, constant connectedness through social media and a packed schedule, but our children don’t always see the stress, anxiety and burnout that results from this approach to life. Self-care generates positive emotion, and replenishes our reserves of physical and emotional energy, all of which are crucial to manage life’s challenges resiliently. By teaching our children to take time out, and to learn skills like deep breathing, relaxation and mindfulness, we help them to become more self-aware of their needs and feelings and to self-regulate their emotions. By modeling, and teaching our children to create healthy boundaries around study and school commitments, and with their friends around communication and social activities, we are setting the scene for our children to be able to live a balanced life, and assertively protect their precious time and energy. In doing so, we make it less likely that they will experience the anxiety and overwhelm that goes along with relentless busyness, and poorly defended personal boundaries.
Finally, having clear values and expectations at home, regardless of what our family structure is, helps create a sense of security in our children, and encourages them to build character traits that will contribute to resilience in life. Values need to be clearly stated, encouraged and modeled by parents, and examples may include honesty, humility, courage, kindness, gratitude and respect. These values provide a compass for successfully navigating many challenging situations in the home and beyond, and set our children up for a type of life success that transcends academic prowess; to be good people. For example, studies show that people who are in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate and forgiving- and they’re also more likely to be happy and healthy! Values also give us a foundation from which to make parenting choices. When rules and expectations are linked to values, children are much more likely to understand the relevance of them, to internalize them, and to apply them in other settings. Children with clear values, and a strong moral compass, are much more likely to be assertive in difficult situations, and make the right choices because of their moral implications, rather than to avoid getting in trouble.
While the challenges of modern living are always changing and evolving, the response to these difficulties doesn’t need to be complicated. By going back to what some might consider to be tried and tested wisdom, such as allowing our children to take risks and make mistakes, emphasizing the value of effort and persistence over achievement, teaching them to slow down and take time out, and encouraging the development of community-minded values and a strong moral compass, we are building resilient children, and resilient families; better equipped to handle the pressures that we all face, and more likely to live a purposeful life characterized by peace, contentment and a sense of meaning.