By Cai Hui Tian, Assistant Manager of Epworth Family Welfare
A friend asked me what I would do if my child was bullied by other children… my friend said that she might just sit and watch how her child would respond to the bullies.
All of us, including children, will experience frustrations, failures and difficulties at some point in life. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from these difficulties or challenging situations.
Years ago, a friend asked me what I would do if my child was bullied by other children at the playground. While I replied that I would probably ‘rescue’ my child by telling the other children off, my friend said that she might just sit and watch how her child would respond to the bullies. She explained that she could not be with her child 24/7 and it is important for her child to learn how to deal with such situations. It then dawned upon me that perhaps, I was overprotecting my child. I also realised the importance of helping my child build resilience at a young age.
Why is Resilience Important?
Resilience, learned through life’s various challenges, helps children manage stress and cope with rejection. It allows them to regard these difficulties as part and parcel of life. Children need to learn how to be resilient in order to become an adult who can survive and thrive.
According to the Singapore Mental Health Study 2016, the lifetime prevalence of mental illness in the Singapore resident population is 13.8%, which translates to about 1 in 7 people having a mental disorder. Singapore mental health professionals confirm that anxiety and depression are affecting growing numbers of young individuals. Children who are not resilient have higher risks of mental health disorders and behavioural issues. There is also emerging evidence to suggest that young people who are resilient are more likely to achieve success in school.
How to Raise a Resilient Child?
Fortunately, resilience is not inborn. Rather, it is a skill that can be learnt, and parents can help their children become more resilient. Here are some suggestions for raising resilient children.
• It is essential for parents to build a strong relationship with their child by letting them know that they are accepted and loved even when they make mistakes.
• Parents can empathise with their child by listening to them share about their feelings, so that their child feels understood. It is important for children to know that their feelings matter and that even the negative ones are okay.
Children will then learn that they can turn to their parents for comfort when they are feeling troubled. Empathy also helps children develop compassion and healthy relationships with others.
• What parents can say: “It is okay to feel sad and disappointed that you did not do well for the test. Your thoughts and feelings are important to me, and you can share them with me.”
• Parents can help their child recognise and reinforce their strengths by encouraging activities that they are good at and enjoy doing.
• Parents can celebrate their child’s achievements and emphasise the child’s role in creating their own success.
• Parents can teach their child problem-solving and life skills. Instead of removing or avoiding difficult situations, parents can explore and discuss with their child on how they can handle the challenges, or how they can manage their negative emotions.
• Parents can explore with their child on what went wrong when they made mistakes, and help their child to understand that mistakes are for learning. This might enable their child to feel more optimistic and be more willing to take risks in the future.
• What parents can say: “Wow, you play the piano so well! I’m so proud of you.”, “Let’s see, you must be nervous about your first examination. What do you think can make you feel better? Let’s see what we can do to help you in your revision.”, “The colours of the painting did not turn out as well as we expected. What can you do differently next time?”
• Instead of intervening and taking over their child’s task, parents should give their child ample opportunities to solve problems and make decisions. This will help the child to believe that they are capable and are in control of their own lives. However, this should only be done when the child’s safety is not compromised.
• Parents can ask themselves, “What does my child need to learn?”, when their child misbehaves or makes mistakes. Instead of shaming, blaming or making hurtful remarks, parents can help their child to learn those lessons or skills.
• What parents can say: “Oh no, the blocks keep tumbling down. What can you do to ensure it stands?”, “You might need to start writing down the list of homework you have, as you have been forgetting to do some of them.”
• Children are always watching their parents, and parents are important role models and coaches for their child. Therefore, it is important for parents to be mindful of how they handle stress, challenges and transitions. Parents can teach their child good coping skills by exhibiting those skills themselves.
• Parents should also own up to their mistakes and apologise to their child. Parents can point out what they said or did wrongly, and explain how they can learn from the problem and fix it. This will teach their child that making a mistake is fine, as long as they apologise and learn from it.