By Emma Hughes (Writer in Residence)
How can we help our kids to master the art of resilience?
It’s the question on the lips of parents everywhere in this age of social media, suicide statistics and insidious screens. With a sharp rise in mental health concerns (which have doubled in the past six years for teens), it can be difficult to know how to respond.
Sharon Witt brought her wealth of knowledge to our Parenting Night on Monday 2 September, as she spoke about ‘Building Resilience in Children and Teens’. With a teaching background of 27 years, 22 years of mothering experience, a conference circuit and numerous books for tweens and teens to her name - Sharon is dynamic, personable and has a talent for communicating difficult information in a simple and practical way.
We learned about the nature of resilience - which is the ability to bounce back or adapt to difficult circumstances, to thrive despite the odds. While we may not be able to vaccinate our kids against the tough stuff, that doesn’t mean we can’t help them to develop worthy qualities that will help them stand strong.
With the following Domains of Resilience, Sharon encouraged parents to ensure that our children have at least four out of these six protective factors to boost their chances of thriving when tough times hit.
1. A Secure Base
Are our homes a place of safety and support for our kids (and their friends)? Sharon urged us to embrace our role as parents - ‘becoming’ boundaries (not just talking about them) and giving our kids a good dose of Vitamin N (No) when necessary, as Dr Michael Carr-Gregg would say.
But it isn’t all about the negative. Learning about what each child responds to as their primary love language is crucial, so that we can set aside time and resources to meet those needs. Having ‘lighthouses’ for our kids to turn to is also important - other trusted adults (such as relatives, coaches or church friends) who can be there for them when they need it.
As for parenting styles - if we can aim for either a democratic option (embracing compromise when necessary) or a parachute approach (guiding our kids in the right direction and helping them land), we will empower our kids while not abandoning them to their path.
2. Social Competencies
We focus on key skills like reading and maths, but how much emphasis do we place on qualities that are harder to quantify? Areas like dealing with conflict or disappointment, learning how to share, holding a conversation or dealing with other children with behavioural difficulties - when we teach our kids how to handle these issues, we are gifting them important abilities for later on in life.
3. Positive Values
Sharon reminded us that we are our kids primary role models (‘our kids can’t be what they can’t see’) and we need to demonstrate the key values we hope they will develop (such as kindness, honesty, empathy, selflessness and inclusivity). This reframing means that we must prioritise self-care and be willing to be honest about our struggles.
4. Talents & Interests
Kids need to find their spark. Whether that be in art, sport, dance, music or some other endeavour; when children are allowed to try and fail, or find true joy in an activity, they will be bolstered in so many other areas of life.
Friendships can often seem like a side story, but in reality, they are hugely important in the building of character. As parents, we can help our kids develop a script to work out their own problems at school, offer an empathetic ear when interactions don’t go to plan and empower them to respond to others with kindness and grace. Shooting off an email to a teacher to provide more context about friendship issues is a great way to work together with the school to support your child.
School is such a crucial part of providing both a safe base and a zone of connection for students. Research demonstrates that children who stay in school longer are set up for greater success, whether they participate in VCE or other pathways. We can also educate our children to see issues beyond themselves - working together to raise money for those less fortunate or sponsoring a child together - these projects are invaluable in building perspective, skills and empathy in our children.
Parenting is not for the faint hearted, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming either. If you can lean into your village, embrace the challenge and show up day after day, you will find hope (and a growing sense of resilience in yourself).
We are so thankful for the wisdom and grace of Sharon and her courage in showing up to deliver a powerful message for all our parents.
And, if you happened to miss out on Monday night but would love to learn more, the Resilient Kids Conference is on this Saturday 7 September in Melbourne. Follow the link for booking details.