We cannot prevent adversity, but adversity can make us more resilient. I’ve adapted the Seven C’s of resilience as described by Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D. in his book, A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Your Child Roots and Wings (2011, American Academy of Pediatrics), for young people facing health challenges. Here are some ideas for building resilience in kids and teens, whether your own children, or those you are supporting:
Provide opportunities which lend a sense of control. Being sick can make a young person feel terribly out of control. Help a child or teen feel more in control by offering choices, letting him make decisions when appropriate, or help him realize that he can take an active role in his emotional health (Hint: Digging Deep can certainly help with that!)
Help a young person feel more competent by helping her identify how she is handling her challenges and already coping. Encouraging a child to ask questions, participate in managing their treatment regimes, or learn as much as possible about their disease or treatment if appropriate are all ways of fostering competence.
Respect a young person’s coping style, whatever it is: distraction, withdrawal, denial, positive reframing, etc. There are many ways to cope, and remember, coping is a healthy way of getting through a situation. At the same time, offer ideas for additional or perhaps healthier coping strategies, such as journal writing, emotional expression, art, or pet therapy.
Help build confidence by praising the young person for overcoming obstacles and by attributing this to something the child has done, versus attributing it to good luck or chance. Provide opportunities to build confidence one step at a time, but help the young person recognize one success before moving on to the next challenge.
Give a child a strong sense of emotional security by encouraging him to express all of his feelings, and accept and support him, whatever emotions are expressed. Feeling heard helps strengthen emotional bonds.
Strengthen a child’s sense of character by helping her explore who she is, what her values are, and what wisdom and gifts she has that she can share with others.
Help a child or teen acknowledge that although he may be in a position of receiving more than he is able to give, the world is a better place because he is in it. Explore situations where the young person can truly feel he is contributing, and find ways to bring those situations into his life.