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Tips for Promoting Resilience in Families

Dr Judith E Paphazy, FACE.

In uncertain times it is normal to feel anxious. This COVID-19 epidemic has disrupted our lives and the uncertainties have thrown our familiar world into disarray. Fortunately, we all have the capacity and the ability to learn how to manage and cope with these uncertainties – we can all become resilient.

Dr Edith Grotberg (1995), an international expert in resilience, states that “resilience is not magic, it is learnt and everyone is able to learn how to face the inevitable adversities of life; everyone is able to overcome adversities and to be strengthened by them … (and) we can begin or enhance this process at any age or stage of our lives”.

The Grotberg resilience model is based on the dynamic interaction between the three categories of:

I HAVE – the external supports - usually family, caregivers and community who model and promote resilience;

I AM – the inner strengths - formed over time by our feelings, attitudes and beliefs;

I CAN – the interpersonal and problem-solving skills, the “what I can do” developed over a lifetime.

The following six tips are underpinned by Grotberg’s model as they promote building resilience into everyday life.

1. Be there for your children as the trustworthy and unconditionally loving parent. But remember that as parents, you are in charge – yes, you discuss and negotiate (age appropriately) but you have the final word. You set the boundaries to keep them safe.

2. Be consistent. Family values are clearly understood as are rules, limits and consequences. Mistakes are gently corrected and seen as learning opportunities. They are forgiven so everyone moves on optimistically.

3. Have routines. Routines give a sense of order and put purpose into the day. Work out a timetable with your children – times for school, times for recreation and so on. Be flexible with these, especially if circumstances require adjustment.

4. Sleep – Exercise - Food

We all know that for best brain development our children need:

Sleep, exercise and food are essential for life: they improve memory and brain function, reduce stress and anxiety while improving general health.

5. Listen attentively – let your children talk (but don’t solve their problems). Give them the opportunity to come up with ideas - often they will find their own solutions. Offer possibilities and suggestions if they’re stuck. Be their safe person, the person they can always come to.

6. Gratitude – a combination of thanks and appreciation. It’s the acknowledgement of goodness in our lives. It allows us to appreciate what we have rather than thinking about what we haven’t. As parents we model gratitude every time we say “thank you”, when we talk about what we’re grateful for, when we send a “thank you” note or token of appreciation and when we notice little acts of kindness in the family.

Research studies have shown that gratitude is linked to happiness in children. They are more optimistic, more engaged with friends, more socially supportive of peers, achieve better at school and generally are more satisfied with their lives. Gratitude is a blessing for both the giver and receiver. 

And a gentle reminder, humour is a great way to reduce tension or to see the funny side of a situation. The Mayo Clinic says that laughter “enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins (feelings of well-being) that are released in your brain”.

Dr Judith Paphazy: Psychologist and international expert on building resilience in children.

References:

A guide to promoting resilience in children: strengthening the human spirit
The Science of Gratitude
Mayo Mindfulness: The health benefits of laughter