Childhood is full of difficult circumstances. Children currently living through the pandemic are experiencing unprecedented changes, challenges, and adversity. This post shares practical, researched-based ideas that can help you increase your children’s resilience to adverse situations both during the pandemic and beyond.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been wreaking havoc on our world for over a year now. Many people are concerned about the long-term effects of the pandemic for both themselves and their children. Due to the protective regulations in place (social distancing, quarantines, prolonged virtual learning, and face masks), many people are feeling isolated, lonely, anxious, and stressed. To protect our physical health we risk serious challenges to our mental health.
Prolonged adverse situations have been shown to increase unemployment and poverty levels, parental mental illness, substance abuse, child abuse and neglect, and intimate partner violence. The added challenges of the pandemic mean that many children are missing out on critical support services and have fewer interactions with supportive adults. School closures have affected the education of over 80% of children worldwide.
Fortunately, much research has been done in the past to show that most children are incredibly resilient. There are several protective factors that can help buffer children from the negative effects of adverse situations and increase their ability to positively adapt to the challenges they face.
This article describes several ways that you can support your children to promote their resilience and help protect them from some of the negative effects of the pandemic or any other difficult situation they face.
1. Caring, Supportive, and Sensitive Grown Up
The most important way that a child can be protected and supported during difficult times is to have at least one sensitive and caring adult in their corner. Quality time with a grown-up who loves them and gives them space and support to work through the challenging emotions they are facing is vitally important.
Recent research, specifically related to the pandemic, has found that kids who have regular, meaningful connections with their parents experience less psychosocial problems, and the parents experience less stress. With the challenges of balancing virtual schooling and working from home, I know that positive and meaningful connections can be difficult. When my kids were doing virtual school full-time I just wanted to log off from work each night and check out completely. The idea of spending more time with my kids to try to connect outside of the stressful times of virtual schooling sounded exhausting. But it really makes a difference.
Quality time can be in small segments
Be sure to spend plenty of quality time with your children regularly. They need even more of this quality time during stressful situations. This time can be small pockets of time that add up over the day or week. It does not need to be hours of dedicated attention every night. A few minutes of play after school, reading a chapter of a book in the morning, playing outside for a quick break before dinner, and a chance to have a real conversation before bed are all great ways to increase your time together.
It can also be helpful for children to interact with other adults outside of the home through video, phone calls, email, texts, or even writing old-school letters. Kids only need one caring adult, but the more they have supporting them, the better.
2. Emotional Support
Kids are receiving a lot of messages that are scary. There is a lot of uncertainty and many questions we just don’t have answers to. Their entire worlds have been flipped upside down. They have limited access to their friends and support system. Their routines are continually changing and they can sense the stress of every adult around them.
Reassure, Routines, and Regulation
We can increase children’s resilience to adverse situations by focusing on their mental and emotional health and providing them with the support they need. It starts with reassurance. Help kids understand that they are safe and supported. Work to avoid catastrophizing situations. The point is not to keep kids in the dark about what is going on, but to help them know that the adults in their lives are working to keep them safe.
Routines are really important for kids to be able to make predictions and feel secure. Any time a challenging situation arises, quickly work to create and maintain predictable routines that your kids can count on.
Kids need help, guidance, and support to regulate themselves. They haven’t learned yet how to manage their emotions (most adults haven’t either). Instead of losing your cool when your kids lose theirs, take the time to move in close and be their safe space. Teach them ways to calm themselves and manage their emotions. Be sure to also include emotional check in moments when you offer opportunities for your children to talk about their feelings and ask questions.
Focus on the Positive
It is also helpful to make sure that children focus on the positive. This is important for adults as well. Talk to your kids about what is still going well in their lives. Share good stories with them of hope, resilience, and people doing good things. The goal is not to ignore the bad, but to balance out all of the negative they are being flooded with by stories and reminders of what is good in the world.
3. Social Connection
Positive relationships are one of the most important factors for well-being in both adults and children. Even though our normal in-person connections are limited during the pandemic, there are still many ways that your children can connect with both their friends and other adults.
Use virtual resources to help your kids talk to their friends and extended family. Many families have also developed “pods” with other families to participate in some in-person social events. You might also consider play-dates and get-togethers that can be set up in socially distanced, outdoor locations. I know families that have met up with others at parks and outdoor ice skating rinks to keep connected, even during the winter months.
Close relationships among parents and siblings have been found to be an important protective factor for children during the pandemic. Yes, it is important for your child to have opportunities to interact with children their own age, but some connection is more important than who. The pandemic won’t last forever, they will get to hang out with friends under normal circumstances again someday. For now, if they have a lot more family game nights with mom and dad, that’s good too. It’s still social interaction.
4. Parental Well-Being
One of the best things that can be done to promote children’s resilience to adverse situations is to prioritize the wellbeing of the child’s caregiver. Your physical and mental health matters. The healthier you are the more you’ll be able to support and protect your child from adversity.
Find meaningful activities that fuel you and support your mental, physical, and spiritual health and then schedule them in. Be sure to find times when you can take a complete break from both work and childcare. If you are a single parent, ask for help from a friend or family member. You can also try to work out a childcare trade with another single parent to give you both an opportunity to rest.
The top things you can do to support your well-being is to include movement (exercise), rest, prayer and mindfulness, and activities that are meaningful to you. Be sure to find opportunities for fun, both with your kids and on your own. It is also important that you stay connected to your own friends, family, and coworkers.
5. Healthy Habits
A research study that was conducted in China in the Spring of 2020 found three things that seemed to lower children’s chances of experiencing psychosocial problems during the quarantines and lockdowns. These things include children getting more sleep, being more active, and spending less prolonged time on electronic devices. I bet you aren’t even surprised by these findings. These are things that we know help to keep our children mentally and physically healthier at all times. It is even more important to focus on these areas during challenging times.
Conclusion and Next Steps to Support Children’s Resilience During Adverse Situations
Working to increase children’s resilience to adverse situations can be challenging, but not impossible. The items on this list are mostly common sense things that we know are good things to do for our kids. Research tells us that these things can make a big difference. When we’re going through hard times, we are already exhausted and stressed. The hardest part isn’t knowing what to do, it’s finding the energy and motivation to do it. But in this situation, our kid’s mental health and future is our motivation.
First, take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty vessel. Then, just be there for your kids. Love, support, quality conversations, reminders of the good in the world, and an example of how to hold onto hope and optimism. This is what our kids need from us.