We are all living in difficult times with the global Covid-19 pandemic, its impact on the education and future of our children, the economic downturn and other widespread problems related to the online safety of children. Many people are struggling, consumed by anxiety and stress, finding themselves unable to sleep or focus.
As an educationist, I am particularly concerned about the impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health. Many children have not physically been in school since March 2020. They are isolated from friends and relatives for fear of contracting the virus. Some might be grappling with the financial loss of their parents and many must have succumbed to depression and others must be facing the adverse effects of unguided use of the mobile phones and the internet. They are all very real life stressors.
Decades of research has documented serious consequences from chronic stress in childhood. But psychologists have identified ways in which parents can teach children how to cope with adversity-a remedy commonly known as resilience.
Children cannot be protected from everything. They can experience neglect, physical or emotional abuse or bullying. They live through domestic violence, parental disputes and sibling rivalry. There can be long term consequences due to such problems. Stress in childhood can physically alter the brain development of a growing child. It can impact their cognitive and socio-emotional development, learning, memory, decision- making and more.
Some children develop emotional problems, respond with aggressive or disruptive behavior. Kids who are exposed to chronic stress may develop lifelong health issues including susceptibility to obesity, diabetes, cancer and mental issues like depression and anxiety.
So how do some kids thrive amidst serious challenges, while others are overwhelmed by them? Researchers are working to identify what helps children to overcome these obstacles. The results seem to narrow down to support and resilience. Resilience is defined as the ability to spring back, rebound or readily recover from adversity. It’s a quality that allows people to be competent and accomplished despite tough circumstances. Some children from difficult backgrounds do well from a young age. Others bloom later, finding their paths once they reach adulthood.
Ann Masten, a pioneer in developmental psychology research, referred to resilience as “ordinary magic”. Resilient kids don’t have some superpower that helps them persevere while others flounder. It isn’t a trait we’re born with; it is something that can be fostered.
The key factor that helps children to build resilience
In a recent study ,8-17 year-olds who maintained emotional balance despite stressful situations were less likely to suffer from depression or other emotional problems. Right Relationships seem to be the foundation that keep children grounded. Loving relationships in family circle provide lifelong sense of security and belongingness to children.
Parents’ consistent support and protection is crucial for healthy development of children. Teachers in school also play a crucial role in building self- esteem in children. Having steadfast support and encouragement from parents and teachers lends stability in building self- confidence and emotional strength in them.
How to encourage resilience at home?
There are many ways parents can help their children to build resilience. Allowing children to talk, listening to them attentively shows caring and acceptance and validates their feelings and helps them contextualize issues.
Sometimes it is also allowing children to enjoy some degree of autonomy. Trusting them to try things on their own and even if they fail, they can be helped to learn to solve problems or deal with failure, disappointment or other uncomfortable emotions. “Calm breathing” techniques are another tool that help children to control their emotions.
Classes in “social and emotional learning” have been gaining momentum in schools. The curriculum teaches children to understand and manage their feelings, develop empathy for others, make responsible decisions and solve problems.
Helping children build resilience is particularly critical now, as people face so much turbulence in daily life. Parents, too, need to guard their mental health in order to provide their children with crucial support. Building resilience isn’t just kid stuff. Today millions of children across the globe experience some type of trauma with chronic stress. So amid this global pandemic, it is more important than ever to provide children with as much support through this “ordinary magic”- Resilience.
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