Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: Children and resilience

Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: Children and resilience

by Hilary Valdez
Stripes Okinawa

The past year has been difficult for young children and teenagers. We often hear that kids are resilient. But some youngsters have difficulty adjusting and emotionally healing after a life disruption and struggle to achieve their goals. When I transferred to another country with my kids, they had a tough time adjusting to the new social and educational expectations. Kids are not immune to negative events.

Resilient children are made, not born.

It’s up to the parents to provide a nurturing and supportive home atmosphere when children are under stress. I always sat around the kitchen table with my kids discussing their frustrations. These formative discussions of their traumatic experiences helped them become resilient. According to Judy Willis, M.D., “Helping your children build their resilience promotes their character, academic success, and optimism to undertake new challenges, while encouraging a more positive approach to life.”

The goal is to build your child’s confidence and psychological strength to get started and to keep trying. By arranging projects into manageable tasks, this helps children build awareness and conviction to undertake larger responsibilities such as difficult school assignments.

Life is a challenge at any age, but children are affected by being away from friends, social and sporting events at school, studying alone, being stuck on a math problem and being isolated. I was never a Mr. Wizard in school, and I shared my mistakes with my kids. This encouraged open discussions and helped them recognize that mistakes and frustrations are part of learning. Our kitchen talk helped my kids develop competence, and optimism while helping them to “keep at it” a.k.a…become resilient and achieve their goals.

However, there is a fine balance between appropriate sharing and not turning your children into your emotional partners. Still, each parent has to provide emotional leadership to children. I always discussed how I felt and survived in stressful times and how I managed my emotions a.k.a…emotional management. I used a little humor as to how I could’ve made different decisions, had I known better; the “Uh Duh” factor. Ultimately, kids need to be prepared for life to adequately address the challenges of living.

According to Mel Schwartz L.C.S.W.:  “The tendency for many parents is to openly share their positive attributes but withhold the personal history of their life’s struggles and setbacks. Some parents may say that they don’t want to burden their children with their problems – past or present. When we divulge our challenges, we are actually sharing a valuable life lesson: life is difficult at times, struggle is normal. If kids knew that as  parents we went through these difficulties, we’d be providing them with strong reference points. Children often struggle with low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. These issues are life experiences that they have to encounter. By sharing your life with your children, helps build their resilience.”

As my children matured, they had developed a pattern for problem solving. We still sat at the kitchen table, only this time we had pieces of butcher paper and pencils. We wrote problems and possible solutions down. What was manageable and what seemed out of control.

My kids’ perspective of me changed when I started explaining the financial obligations of raising three kids. My oldest daughter had complained about my frequent TDY/TAD trips. I mentioned how bad I felt being away and missing family time. I tried putting a universal layer of understanding on that sensitive issues by stating that many moms and dads have to travel in their jobs, and it’s not uncommon. But we are still together as a loving family. My goal is for them to feel confident that they can overcome obstacles and that they will grow stronger.

To achieve that end, parents need to provide kids with the skills to be resilient, to bounce back from obstacles to their wellbeing, and thrive in their lives. We can provide our kids with a positive psychological foundation if we rethink our relationship with them. For example, as they became teenagers, I changed my communication style from Adult-to-Child or Parent-to-Child to a more Adult-to-Adult style. I put the expectation on them to behave and think independently and express themselves without fear of retaliation. This required me to re-think my operational beliefs as a parent, which is way different than grandma and grandpa.

My task was to normalize life’s challenges. The greatest gift we can give our children is to fully participate in their lives by opening up our own lives to them. Being transparent requires strength. Pass on your strengths, not your weaknesses.

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Hilary Valdez is a retiree living in Japan. He is an experienced Mental Health professional and Resiliency Trainer. Valdez is a former Marine and has worked with the military most of his career and most recently worked at Camp Zama as a Master Resiliency Trainer. Valdez now has a private practice and publishes books on social and psychological issues. His books are available on Amazon and for Kindle. Learn more about Valdez and contact him at his website or at InstantInsights@hotmail.com.

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