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When Children Are Suffering
Suffering is suffering is suffering. We hope our children will only experience what we might call “normal growing up suffering”, but – even so – it is difficult to watch them journey through it. Our hearts break for our children. We wish we could save them from the seemingly unbearable grief. We want to fight the injustice for them. We cry ourselves after they’ve gone to sleep. But, we know that the best thing we can do for them is to give them the tools to get through the hard times – not to remove them altogether.
Equipping our children with strong survival skills will facilitate their ability to cope through anything life throws their way. Resiliency has taken over in the arena of children’s mental health. In the self-esteem era, we wanted our children to feel good – whether they won or lost, whether they succeeded or failed. We soon realized that feeling good all the time was not really the end result we were after. Feeling good all the time does not realistically model life.
Next, we focused on our children’s identity. If they had a strong self-concept, we thought, they would be equipped for good decision making throughout their lives. They would be comfortable standing on their own two feet. If we worked on self-concept, they would know what they believed in and valued. But, bad things still happen to children who know who they are, and we soon realized we needed to provide our children with the means to come out of those unpleasant experiences ready to face the world again.
Resiliency is the ability to recover and bounce back from problematic conditions.
Resilient children are children who have relationships built upon trust – with adults in their lives and with their friends. Consistent rules in your home will help build this foundation of trust and provide structure that contributes to resiliency. A resilient child knows that he or she is loved, receives positive encouragement from his or her teachers or parents. We can monitor this in our homes by ensuring that we offer more praise than negative statements (don’t do that; stop; why can’t you…).
Additional components of resiliency include communication skills, relationship skills, and internal responsibility. Helping our children from an early age to accept consequences for their behaviors will help build decision-making skills later in life. Modeling appropriate communication skills – especially when we are mad or sad – will help our children develop effective communication skills.
Showing our children how to move through adverse conditions will also benefit them. Modeling the appropriate pathways through difficult times begins with our own skills. It is helpful to look at these moments and set apart the components that are in our control versus those which are not in our control. We can then work on our thoughts and feelings related to those uncontrollable pieces. By adjusting our thoughts and our attitudes, we can change our ability to cope.
Creating stress management techniques appropriate for our children at his or her specific age will continue to help them as well. As years progress, we will need to introduce different techniques for stress release. For young children, drawing pictures of their feelings, listening to meditation CD’s created especially for children, or participating in some form of physical activity may help alleviate some of the stress. For older children, journaling, talking, or listening to music may help them feel good inside.
Engaging in charitable work also helps build our children’s confidence, their resilient personalities, and their ability to move through the muck in life. It is not hard to find activities for almost every age level. From something as simple as bringing toys that they no longer play with to a nearby shelter to serving meals at a soup kitchen to preparing a holiday celebration for families staying at a Ronald McDonald house – there are many opportunities for helping. Young children can draw pictures to send to a nursing home, bring in books to donate to schools in poor communities, or collect cans to donate to a local food bank. Teens can volunteer their time at the local animal shelter, become a big brother or sister, or visit a nursing home to lift the spirits of the elderly residents.
Helping our children develop a positive perspective on life – even amidst difficult times – will help them get through those times more easily. Children who are focused on the future, set goals for themselves, and have meaningful relationships with others are strong and resilient. We cannot protect our children from the calamities of life, but we can equip them with the proper defense mechanisms.
The book, The Optimistic Child by Dr. Martin Seligman, is a book based upon Positive Psychology and provides guidelines for parents to become positive thinkers so that they, in turn, can help their children become positive thinkers. You can find this book on Amazon by using the link below:
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