Resilient children can handle the obstacles they encounter in life. For some of our kids, that resilience seems to come naturally. These kids roll with the punches, persevere through challenges, and come out the other side with minor wear or tear to show for it. However, many of our children who have been exposed to trauma, including prenatal substance exposure, struggle to manage their reactions to daily frustrations or disappointments. They don’t know how to navigate challenging moments, give up easily, or feel frustrated and afraid. Resilience can be challenging for many adopted, foster, or kinship kids. How can we help our children “bounce forward,” as Dr. Zelechoski said in a recent interview?
Practical Ways to Cultivate Resilience in Your Home
It’s a tremendous job to run a busy home with a calendar full of school, extra-curricular activities, therapy appointments, and social connections. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed as adults with this load. It makes sense that our kids with less life experience and coping skills would feel dysregulated and out of sync in our busy lives. There are practical things you can do as healthy habits that will cultivate resilience and help your kids learn coping skills.
1. Check in on yourself.
As we’ve said many times before, parenting our kids through these challenges often starts with us. Try to take stock of your internal state frequently throughout the day. A few examples of this type of assessment would be:
- How am I feeling about Johnny’s packed schedule today?
- Am I feeling well-rested/hydrated/nourished, etc., this morning?
- Are my partner and I in tune today?
- Do I feel open and connected to the kids right now? If not, what will restore that?
Once you’ve checked in on your internal condition, consider what steps you should take to bring yourself to a state of regulation. Do you need ten minutes to get off your feet and “be?” Did you skip breakfast, and now you need a protein bar or glass of water to settle your stomach and brain? Whatever you need to feel that sense of calm and return to “okay,” do it. You can also narrate this process for your kids to model healthy self-regulation and care and invite the child to join you in your regulation process.
2. Plan regular downtime.
When our children are in constant hypervigilance or are always “on guard,” they need time to lay all that down. It’s a heavy load for a child with immature or delayed coping strategies. We can teach them how to quiet their minds and bodies by making regular quiet time part of our family’s routines.
Daily short bursts of rest
You can do short downtime sessions daily, like 20 minutes before dinner, when each of you reads, do yoga, take a walk, or listen to a meditation app. Families with young children can offer screentime play or quiet playtime while the adults rest.
Long stretches of downtime
However, be sure also to include longer, more intentional weekly downtime. For some families, that means screen-free Sunday afternoons where you unplug, nap, read, or rest. Other families schedule long, lazy Saturday mornings before running weekly errands or doing yard work. Put it in writing on the wall calendar or picture schedules as a visual reinforcement of the value of rest you want to teach your family.
The point is to block time off for every person in your home to find ways to refresh. Each of you might use your time differently, and you can encourage them to learn what brings them rest as they grow and get more skilled at the art of downtime. Learning to pull back from life and tap into their mental and emotional reserves is necessary to develop resilience.
3. Practice patience, tolerance, and forgiveness.
As a family, talk about how to improve how you interact with each other. You can do this in a family meeting where you brainstorm family rules or a mission statement to post on the fridge. Some families create a little mantra that reminds them of their core values. Most importantly, model patience and grace with your family so they can see resilience in daily experiences.
When triggered, your ability to handle your child’s stress and anxiety will communicate safety and trust. Children that feel safe can replace earlier challenging experiences with new experiences of confident, calm responses. Over time, you provide reparative experiences with your core values that fortify your child’s trust. These small doses of repair and regulation will replace unhealthy or unhelpful coping skills that don’t build resilience or let them heal from struggles.
4. Practice healthy habits for resilience.
We say it a lot here, but it’s almost impossible for us to over-emphasize the importance of helping our kids establish healthy sleep habits. We should intentionally develop consistent, peaceful bedtimes and waking times for each family member. Learning the skills for resilience is so much easier when our kids’ bodies and brains are rested.
Establish a bedtime routine that suits your family’s needs and prioritizes connection and felt safety for your child. They might need support like soothing music, white noise, or a night light to feel safe. Offer them a voice and choice in those parts of the routine. Empower them to find the most calming music, stuffed animal, and blanket that helps them feel settled. When you wake them, be gentle and calm, especially if mornings are hard for them. Give them plenty of time to follow your morning routine without nagging or yelling.
If your family has not set up a regular bedtime and wake-up routine, start slow and be patient while they get on board. Once they start feeling the benefits of restful sleep, you’ll find it easier to tweak the routine as needed. Your goal is to be sure everyone gets the amount of sleep they need to be healthy, which fuels you all to support your physical health.
This free course has more practical tips for building resilience!
It’s hard on a busy, full day to provide healthy, nutritious meals for your family. Family mealtimes can feel like a free-for-all with everyone’s different tastes and food issues. Eating well is about more than just the food you put on the table. It should also be about calm, safe, and connected mealtimes. Use meal prep time and time together around the table to talk about the day, how everyone succeeded, what failures they faced, and how to try it again tomorrow. These conversations teach self-awareness, empathy, and problem-solving, among many other life skills that will help them bounce back from their challenges.
Physical activity is an excellent regulating tool. You can walk together, bike around the neighborhood, or hike in the local parks. Use your exercise time to build connections and trust. You can use the time to help your kids feel heard and recharge their moods simultaneously. When we engage in activity at moments of our own peak frustration, we teach our kids how to regulate in healthy and positive ways.
5. Schedule regular family time.
Find one or two activities your family enjoys and write them into the calendar. Whether it’s Movie Night or a Jenga tournament, playing together as a family unit can diffuse tensions, increase felt safety, and build family unity. When we focus our time together on connection and not competition, our kids can navigate the frustrations of losing a card game with support and compassion.
Enjoyable family time can tell your child, “We are in this together,” and “Family is a safe place to land.” Having fun together is a critical protective factor for kids who have experienced trauma – like the glue that holds you together.
Be Flexible in Your Expectations
When raising a child who has experienced trauma, lowering your expectations for all these practices is okay. If this child is in a season of challenging behaviors, prioritize what you and your family need to do to survive this season. Streamline your calendar down to the most necessary elements. Don’t be afraid to take a break from any part of your life (work, school, household management, etc.) that is causing you stress or making you feel like a failure.
Difficult seasons are not the times to try to be “Super Mom (or Dad).” Instead, these are the times to help each other feel successful every day, no matter how small the task. The grace and compassion of flexible expectations – even for short periods to cope – is an act of resilience in itself.
How do you create a culture of resilience in your home? Please tell us your tips and tricks in the comments!
Image Credits: RF._.studio; cottonbro studio; Kampus Production