Childhood may appear to be a carefree time as we often perceive that children do not have any worries and spend their days playing, but that is far from reality.
Despite our best efforts as parents, it isn’t possible to protect kids from obstacles. Our children will encounter stress of varying degrees as they grow.
They may fall sick, need to change schools, run into bullies or quarrel with friends. These obstacles might seem insignificant to adults, but they are huge events to our children that may feel overwhelming for them.
The ability to thrive despite these challenges arises from the skills of resilience.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from stress, adversity, failure, challenges, or even trauma – and building this skillset can help our children manage stress and feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.
Building their sense of resilience is important for strengthening children’s mental health. Children with greater resilience are better able to manage stress, which is a common response to challenging circumstances.
Resilient kids are also more likely to take healthy risks, a result of being less afraid of falling short of expectations. They are more likely to be curious, daring and more willing to push themselves to step outside of their comfort zones.
This helps them reach long-term goals and solve problems independently.
The key to resilience lies in strong relationships
Resilience is shaped partly by our genes, the temperament we are born with, and our environment – our family, community and society.
While there are some things we can’t change, such as our biological makeup, there are others that we can do more to help children build resilience.
Researchers agree that good parenting is often the most significant factor that boosts resilience.
The presence of a supportive and consistent primary caregiver, especially when children undergo stress, can make the biggest difference in a child’s healthy development, shared Associate Professor Helen Chan at the Temasek Shophouse Conversation on “First 1,000 Days – Maternal and Child Wellness”, which took place on June 7, 2021.
Professor Chan is the Head of the Department of Psychological Medicine at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
Supporting her observation at the same session was Dr Tim Moore, Senior Research Fellow at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute of The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.
He added that responsive caregiving is the key factor to developing resilience in children.
“Every child needs someone connected with them, who can provide them a safe place, even in a chaotic family or at-risk family,” he said.
Credit: Photos taken in collaboration with Deborah Quek, featuring one of our ParentWise families
In elaboration, he explained that resilience comes from learning how to bounce back from circumstances or failures, and that children need someone to act as the broker between them and the experience they have faced or are facing.
“We need caregivers who help children to process adverse circumstances to become resilient. This doesn’t protect the child from things, but helps them understand and teaches them ways to resolve them.
“That is resilience – a learned ability to deal with difficult circumstances.”
Children will feel fear, but parents teach them to overcome
Even children as young as infants and toddlers, who may appear to be too young to understand what is happening, can absorb the fear from events or conversations happening around them.
As young children are not able to express their anxieties and fears, parents should watch their children for signs of fear and sadness they may not be able to put into words.
To learn how to bounce back from circumstances or failures, children need someone to act as the broker between them and the experience they have faced or are facing.
During times of stress and change, spend more time with your children playing games, reading to them, or just holding them close.
Infants initially learn to regulate themselves by mirroring a caregiver’s responses. It is helpful for caregivers to be able to observe and respond to infants’ moods and states and help the baby to regain a sense of regulation.
In infancy, babies require adults to manage a large portion of their regulatory needs, from feeding to temperature control to management of environmental stimuli. Infants react physically to the sensory information around them, with little capacity to change their experience.
They need adults who are sensitive to their cues, responsive to their needs, and able to provide a soothing presence in times of distress.
Caregiver capacity for co-regulation depends on the caregiver’s own self-regulation skills. As caregivers play an important role to help babies to co-regulate, babies can sense a caregiver’s moods and may mirror them.
In closing, Dr Chan re-emphasised the importance of responsive caregiving relationships.
“Parents should talk to their babies and build bonds with their children as this can protect your child through life. Even ten minutes of reading a day is going to do a great deal for your children’s future.”
This article was first published on ParentWise. Developed by Temasek Foundation in partnership with SEED Institute (subsidiary of NTUC First Campus), ParentWise is a programme that offers curated evidence-based learning programmes and resources that parents and caregivers need to support their children. For more parenting tips and resources, please visit ParentWise at https://parentwise.sg/.