You can’t protect your children from all of life’s stressful situations but you can sure teach them to roll with the punches and emerge stronger than ever.
Has your child ever had a meltdown while struggling to finish his mountain of schoolwork? Does she feel stressed when faced with an unfamiliar task like a new piano piece? Do negative comments reduce her to tears?
As a parent, you probably wish you could help your children cope better with academic pressure, puberty, peer pressure and even cyberbullying. Later as adults, there’ll be other challenging situations such as work stress, deaths of loved ones or even difficult relationships.
Since we can’t eliminate these situations, the best thing to do is to equip our children with resilience, which allows someone to respond positively in stressful situations.
Importance of resilience
Did you know that resilient people are able to develop effective buffers against difficult life experiences? Being aware of one’s emotions and making the effort to manage it — is a crucial first step in dealing with challenging experiences.
Here’s what you can do:
1. Be a positive example
Demonstrate emotional awareness and show your children how you use positive emotions to deal with challenges.
“When parents remain calm and flexible in managing life’s challenges, they’re teaching their children positive ways to handle stress,” said Dr Lois Teo, Principal Psychologist at KKH. For example, parents can show how they take responsibility for mistakes and learn from them, by saying, “Oops, I just made a mistake but I can learn from this and make up for it by doing…”.
You can also show him that stress is normal and can be handled effectively and healthily, for example, going for a jog helps to relax and reduce stress.
2. Boost their confidence
Many studies have shown that involved and positive parenting plays an important role in children’s resilience . While rejection and punishment  are strongly associated with reduced resilience, positive parenting does the opposite by raising self-confidence and self-efficacy, which reinforces one’s confidence to complete tasks and reach goals.
Instead of always picking on mistakes, acknowledge your child’s positive choices or actions. For example, when she takes the initiative to bring a jacket to a chilly cinema or when he plays well with his sibling. Do not use negative words like “lazy”, “naughty” or “stupid”. Explain to your child that it is the action that you do not like. Help him realise that the problem is not him, but the behaviour.
You can encourage your child to try different activities to find out what he is good at. Explain that different people excel at different things and he should be proud of what he has achieved.
Also, always praise your child’s efforts whenever he performs a task well, no matter how small it is. This helps to reinforce the positive behaviour, increase his motivation and build self-esteem.
3. Encourage flexible thinking through solving real-life problems
When Junior is squabbling over a toy with his cousin, you can help them identify the source of the problem (e.g. “You both want the same toy and that’s making you angry”), and encourage them to think of solutions. Constant “practice” provides children with a basket of readily-usable solutions they could tap in the future, when they’re not in the presence of adults.
Sit with your child and teach him how to identify a problem. Come up with possible solutions and brainstorm for the best. Eventually, he will learn to do this on his own.
Turning threats into opportunities
Researchers have found that even low-resilient people can regulate their emotions when they see threats as “challenges” or opportunities, where there might be something to gain or learn from. So learning to reframe the situation is crucial to developing resilience.
Here’s what you can do:
1. Encourage independent learning
We can set up small “challenges” in our children’s lives by not being overly protective. Encourage independence by letting your child learn new things on their own, said Dr Teo, such as dressing themselves or picking up a new sport. “Don’t be too quick to run to your child’s rescue. Monitor to see if they become unusually stressed by it as that may indicate that it is beyond their developmental needs at that point in time.”
2. Help them see failure differently
It sounds a little cruel, but allowing your children to “fail” or make mistakes early on can help them be more resilient. Frame “failure” or mistakes as a normal part of learning in life — not as a big crushing defeat.
3. Handling stress
Stress can also affect a child’s physical, emotional, social and intellectual wellbeing. Help your child face his problems by teaching him the necessary skills to deal with them.
Teach your child how to cope with stress:
Make sure your child gets enough sleep every night. Maintain a regular bedtime and wake-time.
Let your child do things that he enjoys, be it playing outdoors with friends or listening to music, so as to enhance his mood and to relax himself.
Teach Him How to Handle Criticism
Whether it is teasing from friends or comments from teachers and other parents, let your child know that no one is perfect and that we can learn from every experience.
Develop a Routine
Children need predictability and routines. Let your child know what to expect. This gives him a sense of control so that he feels less helpless and stressed.
Teach Problem-solving Skills
Sit with your child and teach him how to identify a problem, come up with possible solutions, and brainstorm for the best. Eventually, he will learn to do this on his own.
Speak to a Trusted Adult
Encourage your child to speak to a trusted adult at different settings whenever he faces problems so that he does not bottle things up. Help him identify the people whom he can talk to (such as his teacher or school counsellor) and practise ways of asking for help.
This way, your child can better regulate stresses and their emotions, recognizing how they can learn from different situations to develop resilience.
4. Managing anger
Anger is a normal emotion, and one that even some adults have problems managing. Children are quick to flare up, but most get over the heat of the moment quickly. Some, however, may not be able to control their feelings as well as others.
Teach your child how to manage anger:
Ask your child what or who made him angry and why. Help him express his feelings. This will enable him to understand that it is the behaviour and not the person that has upset him. Discuss how to resolve the conflict constructively.
Teach him to think positively. Your child can learn to tell himself: “Relax! I don’t need to get angry about it”, “I am not going to let him bug me” and “I am okay”.
Teach your child breathing techniques to calm himself down. Engage in physical activities, such as jogging, to release tension. If your child prefers, he can draw or write to let his feelings out.
Talk to Someone
Encourage your child to talk to someone if he cannot resolve a conflict and continues to be in anger. Tell him that talking to someone helps him feel better and allows him to find more ways to solve the problem.
Build strong relationships
Give your child opportunities to socialise. Take him to the playground and introduce him to the kids in the neighbourhood. Let him invite his friends home to play.
2. Parent-Child activities
Try these parent-child activities that will help foster stronger and happier relationships.
Regular physical activity is also a good way to help your child relieve stress and stay healthy. If he experiences a particularly stressful day, you can consider taking him for a jog, cycling in the park, or go for some active play at the playground to relieve your child’s stress.
Get your child to join in the fun when you are baking or cooking simple meals. Contributing in small ways such as kneading the dough or pouring the mixture will be a fun-filled activity for your child. This builds your child’s confidence as he learns to make something by himself. Your little one will feel proud in contributing to something that both of you can share.
Let your child participate in making a decision, such as which story to read, what outfit to wear or where to go during the weekend. Start with two options at a time because very young children may get confused when there are too many choices.
Your child learns to be independent and will enjoy the time spent together more when engaged in decision-making.
Tugade, M. M., Fredrickson, B. L. (2004 Feb). Resilient Individuals Use Positive Emotions to Bounce Back From Negative Emotional Experiences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86(2), 320-333
Retrieved Jun 2016 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3132556/
Hill, M., Stafford, A., Seaman, P., Ross, N., & Daniel, B. (2007). Parenting and resilience..
Retrieved Jun 2016 from https://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/default/files/jrf/migrated/files/parenting-resilience-children.pdf
Petrowski, K., Brähler, E., Zenger, M. (2014 Nov). The relationship of parental rearing behavior and resilience as well as psychological symptoms in a representative sample. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, 12, 95.
Retrieved Jun 2016 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4289338/