Resilient children are likely to be happy and successful. These children handle adversity, trauma and everyday disappointments more effectively. They solve problems with empathy and thoughtfulness.
Resiliency is something parents can foster in children. Robert Brooks, Ph.D., and Sam Goldstein, Ph.D., authors of Raising Resilient Children: Fostering Strength, Hope, and Optimism in Your Child, list guideposts for parents trying to promote the ability to bounce back from adversity. Effective communication is one of them.
Parents we meet in our practice are working to keep communication open with their children. They understand the importance of good communication but are sometimes frustrated when their efforts don’t work. Fostering resilience can be achieved when parents examine their communication with their children and make changes where needed. Brooks and Goldstein suggest parents ask themselves the following questions:
• Do my messages convey and teach respect?
• Am I helping my children learn how to solve problems?
Use messages that convey and teach respect. This could be called “Remember the golden rule”: Are you speaking to your child in a manner you want to be spoken to? When a child is angry, parents remind him to “watch your tone of voice.” As a parent, do you do the same? It’s important for parents to speak to their children clearly and respectfully even as the parent gets irritated or angry. If a parent becomes sarcastic or demeaning, expect the same from your child.
Teach children to solve problems. Resilient children have confidence they can solve their problems. They feel a sense of control over their lives and have higher self-esteem. Sometimes well-meaning parents communicate in ways that undermine a child’s problem-solving development. Offering solutions deprives children of an opportunity to practice handling their own problems. For example, a girl comes home upset and crying because her friends made plans for after school without her. It’s hard to see your child hurt and the parental instinct is to protect, saying something like “Who needs friends like that? Just forget those girls, honey. Don’t talk to them anymore unless you have to.” By handing her a solution—writing off the friendships—the parent has robbed her of an opportunity to express her feelings and determine a plan of action she feels good about.
Try approaching the situation from a different angle.
Parent: “I’m sorry to hear that happened. I can see your feelings are hurt and I understand why.”
Child: “I don’t know why they didn’t invite me. Jessica has been my friend since first grade! She just stood there and didn’t say anything! I didn’t want them to see me cry so I just ignored them for the rest of the day.”
Parent: “Sounds like a hard day.”
Child: “Yeah. I’m glad it’s over and I’m home.”
Parent: “Have you thought about how you want to handle things with them?”
Child: “I’m not talking to them ever again!”
Parent: “I understand feeling like that. Are you ready to end your friendships with that group of girls? Even Jessica?”
Child: “No, probably not Jessica. I don’t know about the other girls.”
Parent: “OK. Well what do you want to do about Jessica? She’s your closest friend of the group.”
Child: “Maybe I will call her later tonight and ask her why I wasn’t invited. I think she will tell me the truth. Then at least I will know what’s going on.”
Parent: “That sounds like a good place to start. Let’s see what that conversation brings and then you can think about what to do next.”
Acknowledging a child’s hurt feelings is validating and makes it easier to think about a plan of action. The above exchange is an example of how a parent can guide a conversation and still allow the child to come up with her own solution. In this example, the child practiced coming up with her own solution, and her resiliency was enhanced.
Effective communication is a constant work in progress. Parents can monitor their own behavior and help children develop important problem-solving skills. These skills will increase resiliency in children and serve them well as they advance toward adulthood.
Cary and Tonja Rector are married and live with their children in Manlius. Cary is a licensed mental health counselor and Tonja is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Consult your own health care provider before making decisions affecting your family’s well-being. To comment on this article, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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