Seven Ways to Build a Child’s Resilience During the Pandemic (and Long After It Ends)

written by Phyllis Fagell, licensed clinical professional counselor

For many children across the United States, the pandemic is the first time they’ve had to deal with a disruption of this scale, and some are faring better than others. As a school counselor, I know that parents of struggling kids feel powerless and worry about long-term emotional fallout. Although caregivers can’t always alter children’s circumstances or shield them from discomfort, they can offer a more enduring gift: tools to manage adversity.

“Resilience works like a muscle we can build through effort and repetition, and we want to keep our muscles strong and flexible, so we can think of many ways to solve a problem,” says Mary Alvord, co-author of “Resilience Builder Program for Children and Adolescents.” “At the core, resilience is the belief that while you can’t control everything in your life, there are many aspects you can control, including your attitude.”

Here are seven ways adults can help children cope with adversity and retain a hopeful outlook during the pandemic — and long after it ends.

Leverage their interests

Fan the flames on children’s passions to give them a sense of purpose, a distraction from distress and a way to connect with like-minded peers.

Focus on pacing, recovery

Help children assess what will refuel their tanks. Do they need time to escape into a novel? A reminder that this won’t last forever? A break from social media? A mental health day? Help setting realistic goals or asserting their needs?

Some children may simply need reassurance that they’re up to the challenge. Acknowledge small victories, even if it’s just getting off the couch or making it through another day of online school.

Teach problem-solving skills

Draw on children’s interests to help them solve problems. Ryan C.T. DeLapp, a psychologist with the Montefiore Health System in New York, challenges his Lego-loving clients to build a structure without talking.

“We have to think of an alternative strategy, such as using a whiteboard, gesturing or writing down our instructions,” he says. He uses the STEPS approach, asking kids to state the problem, think of multiple solutions, explore the pros and cons of each option, and pick a solution and backup solution.

Set brave goals

“A huge element of resilience is being able to identify a goal for yourself, to be able to tolerate the discomfort that’s creating resistance toward that goal and — once you meet that goal — being able to celebrate it,” DeLapp says.

Make time to reflect on progress toward their brave goals, and express gratitude and excitement when they meet them.

Identify what they can control

Start a dialogue about what children think they can and can’t control, Alvord says. “Can they control their reaction if a friend says something negative? Can they make choices about what they do during their free time?”

Then convey that they have options and can be proactive.

Label difficult emotions

Many children have lost their go-to coping strategies during the pandemic, such as playing sports or seeing friends, says social worker Amy Morin, editor in chief of Verywell Mind, an online resource for mental health. “Saying, ‘You seem frustrated,’ or, ‘You look sad,’ can take the sting out of emotions” and help them get to the problem-solving stage, she says.

Impart ‘the power of and’

Validate that the past year has involved hardship and frustration, and help your child identify any skills or insights gained because of the pandemic. “This isn’t just positive thinking. It’s ‘the power of and’ — acknowledging that two things can be true at the same time,” DeLapp says. “If we’re too positive, it can become an empty platitude. The ‘and’ addresses our natural instinct to dichotomize an experience and call it either good or bad.”

Phyllis L. Fagell, a licensed clinical professional counselor, is the author of “Middle School Matters,” the school counselor at Sheridan School and a therapist at the Chrysalis Group.

Excerpted from “Seven Ways to Build a Child’s Resilience During the Pandemic (and Long After It Ends)” in The Washington Post. Read the full article online for more details.

Source: The Washington Post | Seven Ways to Build a Child’s Resilience During the Pandemic (and Long After It Ends), | © 2021 The Washington Post

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