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Simple strategies to help your child weather life’s rainy days and tough times

During bleak moments – when word comes that a close relative has been in a bad car accident, or experts on the radio are forecasting still more economic hardship ahead or the evening news is all about the latest fast-spreading virus – I cringe. And then, barely a second later, I find I’m fearing for my children’s wellbeing. It’s a natural parental impulse to put our children’s safety and equilibrium above own. The other day, when I was fretting about the fast-rising cost of medical aid, t turned to see my five-year-old, Charlie, beaming as he zoomed a Hot Wheels toy car high over his little brother’s head. How can we keep two kids healthy and merry, I thought in a world that can seem as precarious as the one we live in now?

Description: Raising resilient kids

Raising resilient kids

Psychologists who study emotional development say there are many reasons to be hopeful about our kids’ ability to survive major setbacks.

Most of us, young and old, do rebound from tough times, and parents – even those feeling stressed themselves – can do a lot to foster optimism and, perhaps more importantly, resilience in their children, experts say. ‘Optimism is a hopeful outlook. It is an important feature of resilience, but resilience also involves as skill set’, explains Dr Robert Brooks, assistant professor of clinical psychology at Harvard Medical School in the US and coauthor of Raising Resilient Children (McGraw-Hill).

‘In order to be resilient and bounce back from adversity, you must think before you act, be an effective problem-solver, and learn from your successes and mistakes’. Weathering stormy times can be valuable reminder that stress and trauma are part of life, and a chance to teach children how to deepen and strengthen their coping skills.

Here are five strategies, from parents and experts, to help keep you and your kids thriving emotionally, no matter what’s flying at the fan:

1.    Don’t make your child wear rose-coloured glasses

Of course parents want to shield their kids from bad news and bury sad things under the playroom carpet. But after nearly 40 years of counseling children and adults, Brooks report that kids with their parental-anxiety radar – ‘quickly sense when there are “family secrets”’. And once that happens, kids’ fantasies of everything that could go wrong are, says Brooks, ‘just like adults’. So, openly discussing tough times and the potential outcomes of uncertain situations is almost always better than saying nothing. ‘If we put things in a way that kids can understand, and make it clear that we are there to help them deal with their anxieties, they often can handle more than we realise’, says Brooks.

Caron Blau Rothstein found this to be true. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she and her husband gathered their three boys, aged five, seven and nine, for a family meeting. ‘We decided to be honest and forthright from the start’, she says.’ ‘Once we knew my treatment plans, we told them what would happen and that we’d update them. We said that things would be tough for a while, but then get better. Most importantly, we gave them the opportunity to share their feelings. Our honesty and determination to keep things as normal as possible – to show them that life goes on – is what made this year doable for everyone’.

Description: Don’t make your child wear rose-coloured glasses

Don’t make your child wear rose-coloured glasses

Helping a child stay rooted in the present, rather than in an anxiety-laced vision of the future, also helped Wendy Thompson. Her nine-year-old son knew his dad’s company was retrenching workers and he nervously asked her what would happen if his father lost his job. To curtail his worst-case, what-if projections, Thompson addressed his concerns directly. ‘I said we had enough money saved to last an X amount of time, and that would be long enough for his dad to find a new jib’, she recalls. ‘He found that reassuring. I think kids need concrete answers’.

This frank approach, with some specific details, allows a child to manage the uncertainty and trains him not to spiral downwards during hard times. Brooks notes that even a child as young as three or four can handle an explanation like, “Grandpa is sick, but doctors are doing everything they can to help him’. By focusing on what’s being done to make things better, you help your child feel more informed and in control – in a word, more resilient.

Parents always swooping down with a plaster fobs kids of a growth opportunity

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