Life is anything but easy. It can feel like it's intentionally subjecting us to situations that make us feel uncomfortable and hurt. Just when you think that you overcame a problem comes another one to replace it. It's a never-ending battle, it seems.
Even as adults, life challenges can easily throw us off and make us vulnerable. But have you imagined how much more difficult it is for children? How do they even survive the pressure from being a respectful child, making friends, doing good at school, and making time to play?
These things may seem trivial to us adults that we won't even consider them as actual problems. But for children, their world revolves around their family, friends, playtime, and studies. Whether we like it or not, children experience hardships in each environment.
A study by Zubrick showed that 72% of Australian children had been subjected to at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE). ACEs are potentially traumatic events that happen before 18. Such events can impact a person's health, opportunities, and stability for a lifetime and even future generations.
There is no single list of bad experiences that encompasses all ACEs as it can vary greatly. According to a report on the Role of Policy in Creating and Addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences, ACEs can range from economic difficulty, divorce, or separation of guardians or parents. They can also be caused by psychological and physical abuse and exposure to substance abuse, mental illness, or violence.
What happens to a child exposed to ACEs?
The harder your childhood experiences were, the higher the chances of having health problems later in life.
Previous studies have linked ACEs to an increased risk of developing chronic and cardiovascular diseases and mental health problems like schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorders, depression, and anxiety disorders. Individuals who have many ACEs may not do well in school, be unemployed, or have unhealthy habits like smoking and drug use in their adult life.
Having many ACEs does not necessarily mean that a child will have rough adulthood. Many genetics and environmental factors can affect how a person will do later in life. Forming a genuine and trusting relationship with a loved one or a close friend can alleviate the long-term effects of early childhood trauma, which is the key component of resilience.
What is resilience?
The American Psychological Association defines resilience as "the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors." Resilience helps children avoid having bad psychological reactions to complicated things. It is more than just sticking with something, even when it's hard. Resilient children see problems in school or their social lives as opportunities for growth.
It's admirable to see children who face challenges head-on. When one poor moment doesn't spoil the whole day, or when they can look back on their shortcomings and learn from them. Resilient children have specific characteristics, and they include the following:
They are self-compassionate
Self-compassionate children achieve well in school and learn new music, arts, and sports abilities. They get on well with other children and are more willing to help because they feel safe and secure. They can also practice self-kindness when things don't go as planned.
Good in problem-solving
When things get hard, resilient children start thinking of ways to solve problems instead of groaning, getting anxious, or avoiding unpleasant situations. Giving up is not part of their vocabulary. They continue to look for ways to overcome a difficult problem.
Openness to new experiences
Resilient children have no difficulty exposing themselves to new situations. Since they are confident about themselves and believe in their capability to bounce back from any situation, they open themselves to new opportunities that come their way.
Connected with others
According to the Center on the Developing Child by Harvard University, children become resilient when they have at least one genuine and trusting relationship with a parent, caregiver, or another adult who is there for them. Our social connections influence our perception of resilience. Resilient children have strong bonds with peers, siblings, parents, teachers, and other caregivers. They feel safe and confident that their network will help them if required.
Building resilience can help our children cope with stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. But being resilient doesn't mean children won't face challenges. Sadness and anxiety are common emotions after a significant life event, even when hearing about someone else's loss or trauma.
Some children are born stronger than others. The good news is resilience is a trait that can be learned at home and in school, and it can be taught. Here are some things you can do to help your children deal with problems and build up their resilience:
Warmth and Responsive Parenting
This type of parenting makes children feel safe because parents are sensitive and responsive to their needs. Children who feel safe are likely to feel more relaxed in social situations. Secure and relaxed children have fewer cortisol surges and recover more rapidly when stressed.
Parents can also assist their children in developing good self-soothing systems by teaching them how to regulate their own emotions. Even when their caretakers aren't present, children learn to cope.
When children experience trauma, it is normal to withdraw into their world. Connection with those who can affirm, sympathize, and comprehend our feelings and experiences is essential for healing and resilience.
Positive support networks can remind children that they're not alone in their struggles and help them feel less stressed while going through tough times. These ties can assist them in overcoming adversity and remaining resilient. Assist your child in forming a support network of friends and family who accept them for who they are. Allow them to spend meaningful time with their friends and other family members while doing the activities they enjoy.
Children who have never had safe attachments can still develop resilience by seeking out connections based on trust, understanding, and caring. These kinds of interactions can help them improve the resilience abilities we need.
Teach them coping skills
Resilient children return and try again. They look for answers. Encourage this conduct by offering assistance but refraining from getting too involved. Resilience is not built by avoiding challenges. It helps to work through them.
Encourage them to develop coping skills, which is an important part of developing resilience. There is always a way out of every predicament or problem, even if it involves stepping away from something that no longer serves you.
Teach them to be emotionally attuned
It's common for children to experience annoyance or worries when confronted with new events or emotions. If your child is throwing a tantrum, using language to help them understand their feelings can be helpful. It helps children put their feelings into perspective when you allow them to name their emotions, such as sad, angry, anxious, or annoyed.
This isn't limited to unpleasant emotions. Say something like, "I see you smiling!" when your child is laughing or having a good time. "Are you enjoying it?" Simple remarks like these will help your child recognize their sentiments in various situations, making it easier to identify bad feelings later.
Being emotionally aware is an essential part of building resilience.
Encourage your children to set objectives and tasks for themselves to improve their self-esteem and confidence. Whether they complete them or not, they will better understand life in general.
Setting goals will help children focus on a specific task and will help them develop the resilience to persist in the face of adversity. Break down major tasks into small, attainable goals and recognise accomplishments on the road to larger goals.
Give them perspective to see the bigger picture
When your child is confronted with difficulty, encourage them to look at the big picture. Even if your child is experiencing really distressing events, encourage them to see the issue in a larger context and maintain a long-term perspective. Help your child realize that there is a future beyond the current situation and that the future can be positive, even if they are too young to consider it on their own.
Share your experiences with them to know that you understand their situation. Let them know that everything has a process and that sometimes we must go through certain things to emerge stronger. Children with a positive outlook may perceive the bright aspects of life and persevere even in the face of adversity.
There are multiple instances of children who have overcome adversity or trauma to flourish and grow. It takes everyday connections and support to build resilience.
Developing resilience is a personal process, and you can help your children along the way. What works for you or your child may not work for someone else. Building resilience in children takes time and effort. Parents can assist their kids in adjusting to whatever life throws at them.
However, if your child cannot employ these strategies, try talking to mental health professionals for assistance. Asking for support may help your child build resilience and persevere despite adverse childhood experiences.