Conversation Café - Building Resilience

Debbie and Shane mentioned that parents want to hear a bit more about how they can help their children become more resilient. So I think the plan for the night is that first I will share a few thoughts with you and then we will have a discussion in small groups.

I want to start first of all by outlining a principle of education.

Vijay Yogendra, the Founder of the School said and I quote: “In the relationship with my children I have to educate myself more than I educate them”. Vijay spoke on many occasions of the need for parents to grow to gain their child’s respect, rather than just expecting more from children’s behaviour. And that this was a fundament of good parenting.

I think it is very hard for us to understand just what an impact and an influence our example – how we behave, how we treat the children, how we think even, has on the children. They are biologically and emotionally wired to us and without conscious thought, will mimic our behaviour.

So in talking about how we can build resilience, I will speak about how we can be resilient ourselves and then speak of how we can help our children to develop resilience. If we want them to be resilient, then by setting an example, we are showing them how to do resilience (or patience, or kindness). This is actually the most direct way of teaching and influencing our children.

What do we mean by this quality of Resilience?

  • Someone with resilience is a very flexible person - Someone who can bounce back from setbacks or disappointments, who is not daunted by falling short at their first attempt, but instead uses that failure as a stepping stone to success by learning from that experience

  • Vijay described a resilient person as one who has 3 A’s – the ability to Accept, Adjust and Accommodate.

    Acceptance, meaning just accepting rather than reacting to unwanted events whether that be with hurt, anger or disappointment

    Adjusting means just adapting easily/switching smoothly when plans or needs change. The bamboo is an example of flexible adaptation. It bends horizontally during the monsoon storms and returns to its upright position after each storm has passed

    Accommodating means to make room for and embrace the people and circumstances that come our way…. and making allowance for others wants needs and preferences.

To me a person with these qualities is psychologically mature, and more likely to be emotionally stable and contented than the average person.

So these are very worthwhile qualities to cultivate.

Parenting is an ultra dynamic role where the needs of your family are always changing and to maintain the patience and mental calm that children need, it helps if we have these qualities in spades!!

Five different ways to become more resilient.

Resilience is one of those human traits that is not inborn so with consistent attention to any of these paths, greater vitality and happiness for us and our children will come.

  1. Managing Fear

    Experts tell us that there is an epidemic of anxiety in Australia at the present time. We have noticed this at our psychology practice as all the practitioners have been receiving a lot of referrals for children with anxiety. We have been asked for tips so many times that Jan Gudkovs and I have written a new book for parents about helping children to relax.
    Anxiety and worry are really forms of fear and fear is diminished as soon as we address it. Procrastination, or avoidance of feared situations actually increases anxiety because our imagination usually kicks in and projects all sorts of scenarios. So it helps greatly if we can address our fears and to do that we need courage.
    Courage or fearlessness is a key quality to grow if we are to handle the ups and downs of life with equanimity and become resilient. In the Baghavad Gita, the classic Indian text, they list twenty-six virtues including self-control, compassion, forgiveness and freedom from anger. However the Gita tells us that these virtues cannot develop in an atmosphere charged with fear - in such an atmosphere even good tendencies get weakened. So they regard fearlessness or freedom from fear as the leader of the pack of virtues!

    Children will often need a lot of emotional support as they face their fears, so we need to be there for them, not minimizing what is upsetting them and really listening to what they are expressing. Listening is such an important quality in helping another person. Sometimes in counselling, we may spend the first hour with someone just listening to their story. When you keep eye contact and give your full attention and care, people feel respected and valued. And in listening to themselves as they speak, they often get a new perspective on their situation. So don’t underestimate the value for your children of just being there, giving them your undivided attention while they unload something they re worried about.

    Another way of helping children deal with their fears is to read stories or fables about how other people or animals, tackled difficult situations. Children can then rehearse in their own mind how they will approach it. If you are a creative storyteller, you can make up you own stories to help children deal with fears of the dark, a test coming up, separation, rejection by a friend etc..
  2. Ability to Switch Off

    To be resilient, we need to practise switching the mind, that gigantic computer, off. The mind, like the body responds very well to consistent regular training, so daily practice of a physical or mental quietening technique will give us an excellent buffer when challenging circumstances come our way. Just 15 minutes a day can re-charge the batteries and restore optimism! That habit prevents the build-up of tension which over time, will drain our energy and vitality. And when we are calmer it is easier to tolerate the discomfort of uncertainty, conflict and disharmony that is present in varying degrees in all our lives.

    So be kind to yourselves, give yourselves a break from the daily grind of parenting and work responsibilities. Remember that we are modelling self-care, and how to look after ourselves, to the children.

    With parenting, try and build a quiet time into your child’s day from when they are very young. If your little one is happy playing in her cot when she wakes from her sleep, just leave her be till she calls for you. For toddlers and young children, wherever possible, don’t draw them away when they are absorbed in playing or enjoying their own reverie. In that quiet atmosphere, they can learn to be comfortable with their own thoughts.
    When we speak of switching off there is one important thing we need to switch off and that is technology!! We feel it is important for parents to strictly monitor your child’s use of technology in all its forms because the habitual exposure to screens will impair children’s capacity to relax and to reach their full potential for several reasons. I will mention just three here:
    1. Sitting for long periods is not good for the body or the mind. The body needs to move - so stretching, walking, running, jumping all make children feel good.
    2. Visual imagery which is a strong feature of video games, can stimulate the mind in a way that prevents quietening. It can be very hard to let those images go and be mentally quiet and physically still.
    3. When children spend prolonged periods playing computer games or passively watching movies, their own creativity goes to sleep.
  3. Attitudes or the mental approach we bring to our relationships and the situations we meet.

    There are some attitudes that can insulate you from stress and increase your capacity to be resilient.
    1. A simple but important one for children to learn is to persevere when they have a so-called failure or setback. Some of us have internalised very high standards and take an inability to achieve at the first go, very hard. So encourage the children to have a go, to keep on trying. The old adage. “Try, Try, Try again and you will soon succeed” definitely has some wisdom in it.
    2. Don’t expect too much from life. Instead be grateful for our health and the opportunity to be active and to make a contribution. This may be tiring and with parenting, never ending, but it is ultimately very satisfying. It anchors and stabilises you. If you don’t expect too much from your relationships you are not so easily hurt or disappointed when things don’t work out so well.
    3. Many people including quite young children, experience depressive moods these days. We find three common but unhelpful attitudes that underpin depression and prevent recovery. These are: a feeling of self-pity, feeling a victim and feeling that something is “Not Fair”.

    Being depressed is like a car that is stuck in the sand - it can’t go forward and it can’t go back. We can’t adapt to the news we have just had, it is not what we had expected or hoped for or wanted.

    So if we can shift these attitudes, and replace them with one of acceptance of what has happened, we can start moving forward again and problem-solving our way out of the crisis. We may need to speak with someone, but with that approach, we are less likely to need anti-depressant medication.

    Remember too that as we practise these attitudes, we can discuss what we are doing with the children. Their ears are always flapping and they will learn from our attitudes, and gradually take it on as their own, practising it in their own situations.
  4. Lighten up!

    Try and always look for the humour and the lightness in things. Children are so delightfully humorous whether they mean to be or not, that its not hard to find something to laugh about with them or your partner.

    All the wise people I have known don’t take life too seriously and are always laughing – especially don’t take ourselves too seriously. If we see ourselves as having some knowledge but also as being a duffer at times, acknowledging that we make heaps of mistakes and when we do, have a chuckle to ourselves. This is far better than feeling guilty or feeling stupid and it also sets a beautiful example to the children about how to accept mistakes and their wobbly first efforts at new things. It is the high flyers, the biggest egos taking themselves very seriously, who will fall the hardest. So instead of needing to feel important or looking for recognition, try and just be available to help out and do our best, just focussed on what is in front of us – this keeps us very steady emotionally and protects us from a lot of disappointment.

    That lightness and laughter create an atmosphere in the home that is optimistic and energizing.
  5. Create a relaxing Atmosphere in the home.

    Our home provides the backdrop to our parenting and it works best for children if it is a place where they feel comfortable and secure. They can then relax, reflect and recoup their energy and resources for the big challenging world out there. This is an important part of being resilient - to have the energy to keep going, to keep addressing difficult situations, rather than running away and hiding.

    There is a lot we can do to make the atmosphere in our homes relaxing and here are just a few ideas. I’m sure you have lots as well.
    1. Reduce conflict at home whether it be squabbles between the children or arguing between parents. Children hate conflict and if prolonged, it creates insecurity and anxiety in them. So instead of fighting, have round table dinner conversations, encourage your children to express their worries or share the fun things they did today at school.
    2. Do things together, hang out together. From my experience children love the family all being together. Make your home an interesting place, with board games and cards and craft activities, that you enjoy as well. Have a strict media policy at home so opportunities for these non-screen things can happen. This was illustrated very well in a program aired on ABC television showing Carl Honore’s Slow Parenting approach.
    3. Music can have a very relaxing and calming effect. When the screens are off, you can have music like Mozart playing in the house. Research has shown that this music is good for us – physically, emotionally and spiritually. Its particular sounds, tones and rhythms can reduce anxiety, strengthen the mind, release creativity, and even heal the body.
    Teachers have reported that when they have had a Mozart, Bach or Telemann CD playing quietly in the background, children’ academic results improve significantly.

    So having the right sort of music in the background at home enhances relaxation and calm.

So these are a few ideas about resilience, to get you started in the group discussions. I hope this has been helpful and thank you for reading.

Conversation Starters for Small Groups

  1. Lighten Up!

    How do you have fun with your family when you’re at home?
  2. Attitudes

    What attitudes do you find help you to cope with family issues?
  3. Facing Fears

    How do you help yourself and the children with worries and fears?
  4. Switch Off!

    How do you switch off from day-to-day hassles and unwind?
  5. Creating a Relaxing Atmosphere at Home

    What do you do to make the home a relaxing place for yourself and the children?