Parenting: Creating Resilience in Kids During the Era of COVID-19

How can parents develop resilience in children during the era of COVID-19? Montefiore's Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychology, Dr. Sandra Pimentel, shares some ways parents can create family resiliency, and discusses the value of structure, social support, stress release, focusing on the positive and practicing gratitude.

Dr. Sandra Pimentel, Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychology, explains how to create resilience in kids during the era of COVID-19.


How do parents help develop resilience in children?

Parents will ask, how do we create resiliency in kids especially during COVID-19? Or they'll ask, is my child resilient? One of the things to remember is that resiliency is not all or none. Resilience means how we adapt during tough times. So by definition, we need tough times to create resiliency. And one of the upsides of COVID-19 is that we can use this time to build resiliency skills in ourselves and in kids. Now, one of the most important features of resilience in children is resilience in parents and there's a very robust literature that supports this which means that when we look at child resiliency, one of the most important factors is how well parents are taking care of themselves. How well are parents managing their own stress? So when we see good adapting in children, we see positive adapting in their parents and their parents' own management of stress. So parents, take care of yourselves, making sure you're getting enough sleep, making sure that you're exercising, that you are finding time to yourself, you're finding social support, you're managing your stress. That's number one.

What is family resiliency and how can parents help foster it?

Number two is creating a family resiliency. Do you have an environment where your family is talking about hard feelings, anxiety, sadness, anger, confusion. There are a lot of those feelings going around and for good reason. So are you creating an environment where kids feel they can talk about when they're anxious and it gives you the opportunity to normalize and validate those feelings? Are you able to demonstrate your own sadness or stress? Sometimes parents don't wanna show these things and within reason it's appropriate to show kids your own anxieties and how you're coping and managing them. So it becomes important to talk about feelings, normalizing them and validating them and understanding what specifically are kids worried about? What are they worried about when it comes to school or friends or some of the social things? What are they scared of when it comes to COVID-19? Getting them to express these specifics and then maybe helping them one, normalize it and two, problem solve if they need to problem solve around it. Another important aspect of this is sometimes we have to tolerate hard feelings, sometimes we have to tolerate uncomfortable feelings that come with uncertainty. There's a lot of uncertainty still to go around and we have to tolerate some of those uncertainties. And related to that is when there are so many things out of our control, it becomes important to focus on, well, what's in your control, what's in your control today, what's in your control right now. Another aspect of this family resiliency is talking about your value. So talking about feelings and then talking about your values, why do you choose to wear a mask? Why is it important to wear a mask for public health, to take care of others and to keep others safe, to keep ourselves safe, of course, why are we washing our hands? Why are we socially physically distancing? Because it's important to take care of others and that's connected to our values. And so families discussing these reasons may encourage kids to follow through with these behaviors when they're out and about. So creating an environment to understand why we're choosing to engage in certain behaviors is important.

How can structure help children during this time?

Another aspect of resilience and building resiliency as kids is structure, structure, rituals, routines to the extent that we can help kids plan their day, plan their week, plan their time. Not that it has to be over-scheduled or rigid but within flexibility, we want to do whether a child is going to school full time, remote learning or some of these hybrid models, schedules become even more important. When are they expected to be? Where, when can they take breaks? When can they have screen time or when can they have downtime? Families can schedule coping time together or stress release time together. One of the meals happening and this becomes even more important as there are more moving parts. Another part of this sort of resilience skill is structuring and scheduling sleep and sleep time. It's such an important and essential part of our health. And especially when we're building resiliency in these difficult times, getting back to a schedule of sleep that is healthier depending on your child's age. So structure, rituals, routine become even more important with some of the uncertainties we have going around us. Building resilience also means finding social support, finding and using social support. An essential feature of a resiliency skill that we can use is who can we count on? Who can we call when we are feeling down? Who can we call when we need a laugh? So helping kids to build their social support teams, who can they reach out to? Of course they may have their parents or grandparents or cousins or siblings depending on the sibling. And they might be able to reach out to a friend, whether it's a socializing on Zoom or a social distance play date, if that's allowed, helping them to understand that we have to create this and do this on purpose. So building social support as a resiliency skill and an important thing for parents to do, if you're gonna call a friend or if you're gonna call someone for social support, say it's, I'm gonna call so-and-so 'cause I'm kind of in a low mood and I'm gonna reach out to them. So modeling for them, the act of reaching out for help, that's an important resiliency skill.

How can families help children focus on the positive?

And then finally, two related points. These tough times that we're in COVID-19 has been extremely challenging for many months now. One of the upsides of these tough times are all the positives we are seeing, the opportunities of neighbors helping neighbors, folks volunteering to help each other, the creative ways that people are assisting and coming out to help each other are really tremendous. So being able to point these out and observe them with your children and look for on purpose so looking for the good and then creating opportunities for kids to do some altruistic things, to volunteer, to be a part of their neighborhood and to be part of the collective also as a resilience scale. And a related point in this is gratitude. One of the most important and powerful methods for people to feel better is to practice gratitude. And there may be times that you can schedule in the day where in the morning or maybe at dinner time, the family can talk about what they're grateful for. So creating a practice, a daily practice of gratitude can become very uplifting and an important skill as you're building resilience in your children and your family and for all of us.

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