From Peril to Promise: 10 Ways to Help Vulnerable Kids Become Resilient

  worriedChildren worry. And some worry more than others. Worrying isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and in fact recent research shows that the most susceptible and vulnerable babies—when they have nurturing parents and safe, dependable early environments—can become the most successful people of all.* What can parents do to help their kids thrive? In this blog, we review our top 10 suggestions for parents who want to translate their children’s worries into lifelong resilience.

  1. Pay attention to your own worries. Develop good coping skills and support systems, so you’re able to model effective responses to challenging situations.
  2. Be available. Make sure you’re there when you say you will be. Security and predictability matter to all kids, but especially to sensitive kids, and especially in times of trouble.
  3. Listen. Listen closely to your child’s questions and concerns. Pay attention to the words, hear what she’s saying, and also what she’s not saying (but might want to know).
  4. Don’t protect your child from all adversity. A child needs to learn that he can pick himself up when he falls, and that—with the right kinds of supports—mistakes are great learning opportunities. The best predictor of whether someone will handle challenges well in adulthood is whether they have learned how to overcome adversities in childhood, so resist the urge to protect your child from small failures that he can manage.
  5. Be honest, within limits. When responding to a sensitive child’s worries—from the most trivial to the most severe—provide only as much detail as the child is able to handle. Children’s comprehension levels differ with age, development, and personal experience, as do their abilities to process emotionally loaded information.
  6. Enjoy quiet moments together. Whether or not your child feels like talking, a warm hug or calm time together where not much is happening can be very comforting.
  7. Support engagement in the arts. Encourage your child to express his ideas and feelings through the arts. Drawing, music, journal writing, and other form of expression can be good emotional outlets, and also serve as springboards for discussion if your child chooses to share them with you. Movies, biography, and literature can help too: both factual and fictional stories can help your child see how it’s possible to be persistent or brave, or find ways to confront challenge, worry, suffering, or loss.
  8. Help your child develop at least one talent. Support your child’s interests, and encourage her enthusiasms, and then encourage her to practice, practice, practice. Every child needs to have one area in which she excels, or something that makes her feel competent. This is probably more true for sensitive kids than others, in helping them become confident and self-assured. The area of talent can be anything that the child values—dealing well with pets, writing, making friends, sports, academics.
  9. Fortify family ties and friendships. A strong network of social support can make all the difference for a sensitive child, especially in vulnerable times.
  10. Get help. Parents can’t do it alone, and it really does take a village to raise a child. If your child is deeply troubled, consider consulting a professional with expertise in children’s emotional well-being.

Although parents can’t—and shouldn’t—shelter their children from all adversity, they can help their kids find meaningful ways to create happy, loving, fulfilling, and productive lives. By providing a safe environment, and encouraging kids to find and explore areas of interest—and by seeking professional help when it’s needed—parents can help their children thrive.

These practical suggestions for helping sensitive kids manage their concerns apply to children of all ages, from toddlerhood through adolescence. The child who observes his parents coping well, who feels safe, and who learns how to deal with his fears or address the problems of others is acquiring skills that will make him more resilient the next time he’s faced with a challenge.

We’ve written before about soothing kids’ worries in times of trouble, and in fact were pleased to see that Lori Comallie-Caplan has selected one of our articles in her list of top ten articles to help you be a courageous parent: Troubling Times: How Parents and Teachers Can Help Children Understand and Confront Adversity – See more at: http://www.sengifted.org/archives/articles/ten-seng-articles-to-help-you-be-a-courageous-parent#sthash.FdsJ1egp.dpuf

You might also be interested in Lori Day’s blog on this topic a few years back: 10 Ways to Raise Resilient Kids in Turbulent Times: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lori-day/10-ways-to-raise-resilient-kids_b_842143.html

*http://donamatthews.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/why-are-some-poor-kids-resilient-parenting-makes-the-difference/

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