How can we help kids believe they have resources?
Young children rely on interactions with beloved caregivers to develop a fundamental sense of self. This starts in infancy. A baby co-regulates with his parent or caregiver, learning that emotional distress is manageable from his caregiver’s responses to his emotional outreach. Over time, sensitive, reliable responses by a caregiver give a young child a model for how to respond to and manage emotions.
In other words, kids learn in direct response to how we respond to situations. Every time we stay calm, every time we allow space for them to try, and every time we are there to soothe a risk gone wrong, children further build their sense of who they are and of what they are capable.
When a child is faced with a new, challenging situation, we can remain steady, supportive and give them the space and allowance to tackle it. If and when they falter or fail, we can also be there to celebrate their effort and soothe their pain or frustration. Over time, risk-taking becomes routine and failure becomes a manageable part of life and learning.
Our modeling is likely the best teaching!
We also model how to be resilient all the time. We can show kids that we notice or even struggle with a challenge and that we can adapt and shift both our attitude and our approach to manage it.
For example, during a heat wave, we can share how hot we feel, but we can still go outside—just for a shorter amount of time and when the sun is not too hot (e.g. early morning or after the sun goes down). Or, if it's just too hot to head out, we can gather a handful of objects from outside and bring them inside to play—great problem solving! No matter what, make some frozen treasure (i.e. freeze ice in different shapes and with different, colorful objects inside) to make summer play feel special, fun and cooling!
And of those adaptations help us communicate to kids that we, and in turn they have the resources and can manage the shifting nature of their environment. We can even make overcoming challenges fun.
Next time you are playing, exploring or just being with your child, be extra mindful of how you respond to the challenges and new situations they or you collectively face. Look for chances to demonstrate that you've got this, that you both feel and welcome challenges. If efforts fail, do what you can to cope and try again. Every time you do, you’ll help kids develop the capacity to be resilient now and when you are no longer right by their side.