Spring 2020 was a time of considerable change for families and communities. As we quarantined globally to stem the spread of COVID-19, millions of childhoods were suspended indefinitely. No schools, no playgrounds, no running around the neighborhood with friends. And no certainty about when, if ever, things might return to normal. Then in late Spring, protests erupted in the U.S. and around the world, responding to long-standing issues of race and inequity. Among parents and professionals, one of the critical questions about the world-changing events of 2020 has been How is this affecting our children?.
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How Kids Manage Adversity
Kids react in all sorts of ways to stressful situations in the world around them. Some children, especially the very young, may not be aware of things like global pandemics and large-scale protest movements. And the impact on their daily lives may be minimal. Many children are affected by global and national crises, though, in the information they absorb and the ways their lives are changed. In response, they may react adaptively, for example through seeking understanding, asking for comfort, and supporting themselves and others. Or they may have maladaptive reactions, such as explosive behaviors, rigid routines, or self-soothing activities more common in younger children.
While children’s maladaptive coping can be concerning and stressful for parents and caregivers, it has silver linings. Unhealthy coping shows parents that kids are having a hard time with something. And it gives parents opportunities to help kids build resilience – the ability to bounce back from stressful situations.
Helping Children Build Resilience
The best way to build resilience is through healthy relationships. We can help children develop resilience by supporting them and modeling healthy coping. Ways to support kids’ resilience include being kind and warm, listening, and helping them reflect on situations and feelings. These strategies may seem counterintuitive if you understand resilience as a hard armor and nurturing as soft. But if you reframe your idea of resilience in terms of elasticity and inner strength, it makes sense that nurturance breeds resilience. Children who are supported, listened to, and loved are more likely to feel hopeful about the world and their ability to succeed in it. We can also show children what resilience looks like by modeling self-care and using a growth mindset. And we can bolster kids’ confidence in their ability to overcome obstacles by celebrating their hard work, acknowledging their strengths, and encouraging them to do their own problem-solving.
Healthy and Supportive Families
One skill that promotes resilience is the ability to ask for help. And that’s true for kids and adults. If your child is struggling with stressful situations in the world around them, you don’t have to support them on your own. Talk with friends who have been in similar situations. Ask your pediatrician for advice. Seek out recommendations for helpful books, articles, TEDTalks or podcasts, and other resources. And make sure you’re nurturing yourself, not just your loved ones. Do what you can to support your own healthy coping, and your family can move toward resilience together.