Two young child lying on the ground with balloons surrounding them

Has your child ever had a meltdown while struggling to finish his mountain of school work? Does she feel stressed when faced with an unfamiliar task like a new piano piece? Do negative comments reduce her to tears?

As a parent, you probably wish you could help your children cope better with academic pressure, puberty, peer pressure and even cyberbullying. Later as adults, there’ll be other challenging situations such as work stress, deaths of loved ones or even difficult relationships.

Since we can’t eliminate these situations, the best thing to do is to equip our children with resilience, which allows someone to respond positively in stressful situations.

Not only do resilient children know how to relieve stress, they are more able to find solutions to problems. They tend to be happier, have better relationships and health said Ms Lynn Soh, head of psychology service at the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) in an interview with The Straits Times. “They can cope better with stressors in life, learn from life’s curve balls and pick themselves up for future success,” she said.

Related: Be a Master of Stress

Positive Emotions Rule

Parents holding on to their daughter while she pretends to be an airplane

Research shows that resilient people use positive emotions to bounce back from negative emotional experiences. One theory[1] is that unpleasant emotions narrow a person’s response to a situation (i.e. attack when angry) while being positive promotes flexible thinking that results in more creative solutions or responses.

Over time, optimists are able to develop effective buffers against negative emotional life experiences. Being aware of one’s emotions, and making the effort to regulate it — is a crucial first step in dealing with a bad experience.

Here’s what you can do:

1. Be a Positive Example

A young girl following her mother and using carrot slices to cover her eyes

Demonstrate emotional awareness and show your children how you use positive emotions to deal with challenges. “When parents remain calm and flexible in managing life’s challenges, they’re teaching their children positive ways to handle stress,” said Dr Lois Teo, Principal Psychologist at KKH.

For example, parents can show how they take responsibility for mistakes and learn from them, by saying, “Oops, I just made a mistake but I can learn from this and make up for it by doing…”.

Related: Children See, Children Do

2. Boost Their Confidence

Asian parents with their daughter playing with bubbles

Many studies have shown that involved and positive parenting plays an important role in children’s resilience[2]. While rejection and punishment[3] are strongly associated with reduced resilience, positive parenting does the opposite by raising self-confidence and self-efficacy, which reinforces one’s confidence to complete tasks and reach goals.

Instead of always picking on mistakes, acknowledge your child’s positive choices or actions, for example, when she takes the initiative to bring a jacket to a chilly cinema or when he plays well with his sibling.

Related: Healthy Self-esteem for Your Child

3. Encourage Flexible Thinking Through Solving Real-Life Problems

A mother playing with her son

When Junior is squabbling over a toy with his cousin, you can help them identify the source of the problem (e.g. “You both want the same toy and that’s making you angry”), then encourage them to think of solutions. Constant “practice” provides children with a basket of readily-usable solutions they could tap in the future, when they’re not in the presence of adults.

“Step back and let them try and come up with solutions for themselves. Don’t be too quick to provide the answers all the time,” said Dr Teo. But when they’ve have tried all ways, reassure them that it is okay to ask for help sometimes. The most resilient people know how to ask for help by tapping their trusted support network.

Parents should establish themselves as a key resource and support persons for their children. “Sit with them and think of all the people they could go to for help. Brainstorm and problem solve with them,” said Dr Teo.

Related: Boosting Your Child’s Self-esteem

Turning Threats Into Opportunities

Researchers[1] have found that even low-resilient people can regulate unpleasant emotions when they see threats as “challenges” or opportunities, where there might be something to gain or learn from. So learning to reframe the situation is crucial to developing resilience.

Here’s what you can do:

1. Encourage Independent Learning

A young boy learning how to swim with a kickboard

We can set up small “challenges” in our children’s lives by not being overly protective. Encourage independence by letting your child learn new things on their own, said Dr Teo, such as dressing themselves or picking up a new sport. “Don’t be too quick to run to your child’s rescue. Monitor to see if they become unusually stressed by it as that may indicate that it is beyond their developmental needs at that point in time.”

Related: Boosting Your Child’s Mental Wellbeing

2. Help Them See Failure Differently

A teenaged girl frustrated with work, with crushed paper littering her table

It sounds a little cruel, but allowing your children to “fail” or make mistakes early on can help them be more resilient. Frame “failure” or mistakes as a normal part of learning in life — not as a big crushing defeat.

Case in point: a 2012 study[4] gave two groups of French students very difficult anagram problems that all could not solve. Afterwards, the first group was told failure is a common and expected result in the learning process.

The second group was only asked how they tried to solve the problem. The first group scored better on further tests than the second, leading researchers to conclude[5] that “children may perform better in school and feel more confident about themselves if they are told that failure is a normal part of learning, rather than being pressured to succeed at all costs”.

So, parents, take a chill pill. We don’t need to tell you how many successful people (inventor Isaac Newton, writer J. K. Rowling, and even local entrepreneur Kenny Yap) failed in school, work or business before they tasted the sweetness of success. What they had in oodles was resilience.


Read these next:


References

  1. Tugade, M. M., Fredrickson, B. L. (2004 Feb). Resilient Individuals Use Positive Emotions to Bounce Back From Negative Emotional Experiences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86(2), 320-333.
    Retrieved Jun 2016 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3132556/

  2. Hill, M., Stafford, A., Seaman, P., Ross, N., & Daniel, B. (2007). Parenting and resilience..
    Retrieved Jun 2016 from https://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/default/files/jrf/migrated/files/parenting-resilience-children.pdf

  3. Petrowski, K., Brähler, E., Zenger, M. (2014 Nov). The relationship of parental rearing behavior and resilience as well as psychological symptoms in a representative sample. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, 12, 95.
    Retrieved Jun 2016 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4289338/

  4. Autin, F., Croiset, J. (2012). Improving Working Memory Efficiency by Reframing Metacognitive Interpretation of Task Difficulty. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 141(4), 610-618.
    Retrieved Jun 2016 from Journal of Experimental Psychology: General

  5. American Psychological Association. (2012, Mar 12). Reducing Academic Pressure May Help Children Succeed [APA].
    Retrieved Jun 2016 from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2012/03/academic-pressure.aspx