What's Love Got to Do With It?

By Mary Shuffleton, LPC, MA 

“When my teenage daughter said she was trying out for the school play, I immediately started to worry about what would happen if she didn’t get the part. Anytime she is faced with disappointment, she becomes incredibly anxious and upset. She isn’t just bummed, like some other kids. She can’t get over it. She obsesses about how unfair it is and says she will never try out for anything again. There is nothing I can say or do to help her when she gets like that. Sometimes it makes me wish she wouldn’t even try out, but I know that isn’t a solution.”

As caring parents, concerned about our children’s development into healthy adults, we often ask “What can I do to help my child through a tough time?” or “What influence do I really have?” Research on resiliency offers us good news in response to these questions.  Resiliency, the ability to handle what life throws at us in healthy, constructive ways, is a combination of our innate, internal characteristics, and more importantly for parents, external, environmental protective factors.

These external protective factors include having caring relationships with adults, being given optimistic messages of expectations, and being given opportunities for meaningful participation and contribution. The best documented factor influencing resilience is a strong bond to a competent, caring adult. Parents who are warm and supportive, and who also provide structure, firm limits and expectations can promote resiliency in their children.

So what does resilience look like? What are the skills parents can help their children develop to not only survive, but thrive, in a demanding, stressful world? A common set of characteristics is associated with resilient children. These are referred to as “developmental assets” and can be grouped into four skill areas:

1. Social Competence;

2. Problem-Solving;

3. Self-Awareness and Control;

4. Initiative.

Now that we know our parenting can influence our child’s resilience, what else can we do? More good news! As researchers have studied resilience over the years, there is more certainty that resilience can be learned in several ways. Resilience is a combination of thought processes, behaviors and skills that parents, among other adults, can help promote over the course of a child’s development.

In addition to your love and support, other specific ways parents can promote resiliency skills include providing opportunities for increasing positive social bonding with peers, setting clear and consistent boundaries, communicating optimistic expectations, and providing opportunities for meaningful participation in family, school and community citizenship.