COVID 19: Building Resilience In Children During Lockdown
Help your child overcome the stress and anxiety of the COVID-19 pandemic by building resilience, the ability to bounce forward from a difficult situation.
By Nalina Ramalakshmi
The winds have changed. Our lives have turned topsy-turvy as the coronavirus is marching across the globe, seemingly unchecked. The only way to stop it in its tracks, it seems, is for us to hunker down and stay home, and maintain social distancing. And none of these come naturally to us, more so to our children. Besides, most parents are working from home and children are home-schooling. We don’t know what to expect next and if and when this madness will end.
Just like we are filled with anxiety and stress, our children too are filled with difficult emotions. They are exposed to a constant stream of not-so-good news related to the coronavirus and they also see us anxious. This can in many ways be a traumatic period for our children. While some amount of frustration is understandable, it’s important to ensure that our children don’t get entangled in all this negativity. It could affect them for life. Instead, they should be able to bounce back from all the challenges we are facing and look forward to good things in life. In other words, we need to help our children become resilient if we want them to grow up to become healthy, confident, well-adjusted adults.
What is resilience?
Resilience is the ability of a person to get up and bounce forward in spite of:
- Crisis situations
Research tells us that although children experience the same risks and stresses, each child responds or reacts differently to the situation. Some children are negatively impacted by these situations, while others are more resilient. Children who are resilient, cope with the failure and adversity; they adapt successfully to the environment and learn to move forward; they are emotionally strong and are less prone to stress, anxiety and mental disorders.
Keys to resilience
Some children are genetically more resilient, but all children can learn and grow to be resilient. Research shows that when children grow up in a caring, nurturing environment, they will build resilience. The following keys can turn on resilience in your child:
- Secure Attachment
- Community Support
- Emotional Strength
- Positive Mindset
Here’s what you, as a parent, can do to give your child these four keys to resilience.
According to Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, ‘The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult.’ In other words, your child needs to develop a secure attachment with at least one parent, caregiver or adult. When your child feels secure with you, she has the confidence that she can come to you anytime for anything and you will be there to support her. This will help her face adversities with resilience.
I recently had the privilege of meeting and interacting with Dr Dan Siegel, author of The Whole-Brain Child and one of the most respected parenting experts in the world. Dr Siegel believes that to have a secure attachment with you, your child needs to:
1. Be Seen
Your child needs you to be present, to tune in to his emotions and share in his experiences.
- When your child is telling you something, stop and pay attention. Look him in the eye and listen without jumping to judgement.
- Observe your child’s facial expression, body language and tone of voice. Notice changes in behaviour to understand if your child is sad, angry, frustrated, happy. You can always say, ‘I see something is upsetting you. Would you like to talk about it?’
- Have open conversations with your child on different topics. This will help you understand your child’s views and thoughts and in turn, she too will know how you think and what your expectations are.
2. Be Soothed
When your child is having a hard time, she needs you to comfort her.
- Empathise with your child. If your child is hurt and in pain, you could say, ‘Oh, that must really hurt. Let’s see how to make you feel better’. ‘I know you really miss your friends and are disappointed you can’t play with them.’
- Give a comforting hug. If your child is upset and crying, often all she needs is your caring hug.
3. Feel Safe
Your child needs to know you will protect her and keep her safe at all times. She should feel emotionally safe around you.
- Agree on limits. Let your child know what is expected of her and how she should behave. It makes her feel safe – ‘I expect you to turn off the TV by 8 p.m.’.
- Acknowledge your child’s feelings. If your child is anxious or frightened, don’t brush aside her feelings by saying, ‘Oh, there is nothing to worry’ or ‘You are a big boy now’. Instead, empathise and say, ‘Yes, I know that is scary’.
- Reassure your child. Be open and answer all your child’s questions about the situation. Let your child know you are doing your best to keep everyone safe. In the current uncertain COVID-19 situation, talk about all the precautions you are taking such as washing hands, maintaining social distance and eating healthy to boost immunity.
According to Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, ‘Children who do well in the face of serious hardship typically have a biological resistance to adversity and strong relationships with the important adults in their family and community.’ The core building blocks of resilience are cemented when your child knows:
- He occupies a significant place in other’s lives
- He has relationships that make him feel wanted
- That others value him for who he is
- He feels accepted despite differences
Here’s what you can do to help your child build good community connections:
1. Supportive relationships
During this period of lockdown, social distancing does not mean emotional distancing. Even if your child can’t meet people in person, he can connect virtually with:
- Family and friends – encourage your child to connect and interact with grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends.
- Teachers, coaches and mentors – can also be very supportive and offer encouragement to your child.
- Peer support and relationships go a long way in helping your child feel more confident. Encourage good friendships.
2. Sense of Belonging
When your child is part of a group, be it family, friends or a religious one, she has a sense of belonging. She feels connected to others and this motivates her to bounce forward from obstacles.
- Encourage your child to join team sports, or group activities like drama or choir, or group projects. Some of these activities may have to wait or be conducted online till the lockdown is over.
- During this lockdown period, children can collaborate online to do projects, create music together, play online games and more.
- Join your child in spiritual classes.
3. Feeling valued and Accepted
If your child feels that his parents and others around him accept him for who he is and they value what he does, he builds confidence and resilience.
- Appreciate the effort your child puts into whatever she does.
- Let her know you love her just the way she is.
- Encourage her to help others. It will make her feel valued.
- When you are upset with your child’s behaviour, let him know that it is the behaviour that is upsetting you, not him. Avoid, ‘You are a bad boy’, ‘You are making me mad’. Instead say, ‘When you hit your sister, that was bad behaviour’, ‘I get mad when you lie to me’. Use ‘I’ statements instead of ‘You’.
When your child is exposed to continuous news about the COVID-19 pandemic and her world is turned upside down – no school, no friends, no going out, she is bound to be struggling with a variety of emotions and anxiety. So helping her build emotional strength will allow her to tide over this trying period and emerge stronger.
When a child is able to manage his emotions and respond in socially acceptable ways, he will be able to bounce forward from distressing situations.
- Try to keep your cool during distressing situations. Your child will learn from you how to handle her emotions.
- Help your child name his emotions. When your child is upset, angry or frustrated, empathise with your child – ‘You must be so disappointed you can’t go out to play.'
- If your child needs to cry – allow him. It will help empty his difficult emotions and will give him a sense of relief once he is done. Just be there to reassure him – ‘It’s okay, I understand, I know it’s hard.’
2. Calming tools
Give your child tools that will help him calm his emotions. This will help your child think more clearly.
- Taking slow deep breaths
- A pillow to punch, blowing bubbles, jumping or running around the house
- Hugging a favourite teddy bear, sitting quietly in a comfortable spot
- Screaming, shouting it out
- Tearing paper, or squishing playdough
3. Ability to Cope
Your child is probably dealing with a lot of stress during these trying times, though he may not express it. Here’s what you can do to relieve some of that stress.
- Ensure good sleep and nutrition. A rested, healthy mind has more energy to bounce forward.
- Encourage your child to talk out his feelings. If he is reluctant to open up, start sharing some of your feelings. He will understand he is not alone in the way he feels and is more likely to open up. Answer any questions he may have. Here's a helpful link: How To Talk To Your Child About The Coronavirus
- For younger children, playing it out is a great way to help them cope with their difficult emotions. Your child may become the superhero who slays the coronavirus dragon, or he may be the doctor who helps sick people. As you observe your child play and talk, you will be able to understand her thinking and emotions. Make sure you do not intervene and interrupt her play unless you are invited to join in.
Having the right mindset can help your child overcome any challenges and bounce back.
During this time your child may feel the world is collapsing around her and she may feel a loss of control. But you can help her shift her mindset and understand that this too shall pass and there are many more happy times to look forward to.
1. 'I CAN' attitude
Today, children are dealing with many challenging situations including having to home school and deal with online classes. With no face-to-face interactions with teachers and peers, it can sometimes be a frustrating experience. Under such situations, if your child thinks, ‘Yes, I can’, you know she will be willing to push ahead. Here’s how you can help your child develop an ‘I CAN’ attitude:
- Encourage problem solving and decision making. Let your child plan her class schedules and activities. For younger children, guide them in putting together the plan.
- If your child is older, involve her in making family decisions such as how much food to stock up, how to help parents get their office work done, etc.
- Offer praise and appreciation for your child’s effort. ‘Thank you for helping me clean the dishes’, ‘Thank you for finishing all your homework’.
- Involve your child in chores around the house, based on your child’s age.
- Break up complex tasks into smaller ones so your child achieves little successes. For example, if your child is trying to build a tower with 10 blocks, she can first build a tower with 5 blocks and then try building a taller tower.
- Your child should know that if he can’t do something yet, he can always learn and grow. So encourage your child to keep exploring and learning. For example, let's suppose your child is frustrated she can’t play the violin like her older sibling. Instead of, ‘Look at your older brother, see how well he plays the violin’, remind her that she may not be able to do it yet, but with practice she will get better.
2. Dealing with Failures
How your child handles failures can either lift him up or sink him. If your child feels that failures are the end, he is truly failing himself; but if he learns from his failures and moves ahead, then he is on his way to success. It is like a toddler learning to walk, he gets up and keeps going every time he falls down.
- Let your child know that there is no such thing as ‘perfect’. Everybody messes up sometime.
- If your child makes a mistake, don’t shame or belittle her. Instead discuss what happened and what can be done differently. Encourage her to keep trying till she gets it. For example, if she messed up her maths paper, ask her what happened. Was she just careless? Did she not understand a concept? What does she need to do to improve?
- Encourage exploration and experimentation. Cooking new foods? Let him experiment with different ingredients and different ways of cooking. For example, what happens if you bake dosa mix?
- Talk about famous experiments gone wrong that led to new discoveries – such as X-rays, cornflakes, chocolate chip cookies and more.
- Share stories of those who achieved success in spite of setbacks and failures. Examples include Amitabh Bachchan, who was rejected by All India Radio, or Arunima Sinha, an amputee who climbed Mount Everest. Here is an interview with Arunima Sinha for more inspiration: Arunima Sinha On Fighting Her Way To The Top
3. Think Positive
It is so easy for your child to be overwhelmed by thoughts of worry these days – ‘What if I can never see my friends again?’ ‘What if my parents or I fall sick?’ and so on. How can you change these negative thoughts into positive ones? How can you make your child feel more optimistic?
- Ask your child to list out all the things that she is unhappy or worried about.
- Ask your child to make a list of all the things that she is thankful for and all the things she can look forward to.
- Which list is longer? How can she change the negative ‘what ifs’ to positive ‘what ifs? ‘What if I can talk to my friends over a video call?’ ‘What if we all take good care of ourselves?’
- Prayer and belief in God gives hope and builds optimism. It gives your child confidence that she can accomplish what she wants. Talk about your religion and set up a prayer routine for your child and family.
4. Purpose in Life
When your child has a purpose in life, he will have something to look forward to, irrespective of adversity and challenges.
- Make a list of all the things your child loves to do. What can she do now under the lockdown circumstances?
- Helping others gives one a sense of purpose. Encourage your child to help around the house. Can she buy groceries for an old neighbour and drop it off at their home, or just video chat to make them feel happy?
- Talk about your child’s dreams and ambitions. Just listen and dream along. Don’t say things like, ‘Oh, that’s not possible’, ‘If you want to do that, you better work hard’.
More than your words, your actions have a greater impact on your child. Talk about your challenges (based on the age of the child), and how you handled them. If your child sees you handling various challenges in your life with resilience and positivity, she will learn from you.
As Elizabeth Edwards, American author says, “Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it's less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you've lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that's good.” So, during this period of uncertainty, reflect on what you and your children can put together to make this a better, happier place for you and your family. Your chance to raise a resilient child is now.
Also read: 7 Signs Of A Resilient Child
About the author:
Written by Nalina Ramalakshmi on 13 May 2020.
Nalina Ramalakshmi is the founder and editor-in-chief of Parentcircle.
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