Are You Worried Your Children Don't Know How to Cope?

Many parents come to me because they’re concerned about their children’s coping skills. It’s clear that a lot of parents are at a loss for how to teach their children resilience. Let’s face it. Raising kids in today’s world is tough. Tech addictions, drugs, anxiety, depression, food disorders, and suicide are prevalent—is it any wonder that parents worry?

As a parent coach, what I repeatedly see are parents who don’t know how to feel, who don’t give themselves or their children permission to feel.

Why is this a problem? Because without emotional literacy, self-awareness, and emotional regulation and management, it’s difficult—near impossible—for anyone to exercise resilience.  Resilience (also known as resiliency) is not something that just appears one day.

Mother baking with her two sonsEmotional Regulation and Resilience

Resilience is an emotional intelligence competency, and, much like a cake that won’t bake properly without specific ingredients like baking powder, it requires crucial components. The ingredients needed to build resilience, in addition to the ones listed above, include introspection, critical thinking, coping skills, self-acceptance, empathy, and self-calming. A child’s ability to bounce back and be resourceful is developed and assimilated over many years via the parent’s responses, mirroring, and empathy.

For more on empathy, see “How to Teach Empathy to Children and Create Understanding.”

If a parent shuts down a child’s emotions, or if a child watches their parent get upset and become unable to handle emotions effectively, then feelings become difficult for the child to understand or access. If a parent shames a child for feeling or perhaps fails to acknowledge the child’s feelings, then it’s easy for the child to believe that emotions are wrong, bad, unmanageable, or even scary. If children do not experience their emotions without judgment, then they don’t get to practice expressing and regulating their emotions. This means they don’t learn self-control or build the confidence to feel capable of handling emotions effectively.

As Dr. Shefali eloquently stated:

“The truth is, instead of teaching resilience to our children, we're teaching them emotional avoidance. The only way to teach resilience is to realize that we, as parents, need to be comfortable in our own emotional skin. We need to be comfortable with our emotional language, depth, and imbalance to handle the conflicts of life and to be able to sit in that not-knowing space and understand that through the tolerance of the pain of life, we actually grow stronger.”

A mother emotionally upset with her teenagerIf we as parents can’t handle emotions, how can we expect our children to learn? As adults leading the way for a child, we can’t be afraid of or ignore our emotions. We need to model for our children that emotions are a natural part of being human; emotions are our friend and to be welcomed; feelings are manageable. We need to teach children that emotions are a compass to our True North that guides us to be true to ourselves and achieve inner peace and serenity. And lastly, we need to demonstrate that life can present some difficult challenges, but we can handle what comes—including feelings—and gain the support of those around us as needed.

For an in-depth understanding of emotions, listen to our webinar, “How to Use Emotions to Make Life-Transforming Change.”

Tips for Building Resilience in Children

So, what are the necessary ingredients to build children’s coping abilities and weave emotional resilience into their lives?

1)  Permit yourself to feel emotions, then express them in healthy ways to model them effectively. When we give ourselves permission to feel, it allows us to relax into each experience with our hearts. Our feelings show us when we are compromising our values (guilt), when we need to set better boundaries for others (resentment), when we are overworking and giving up ourselves (anger), and when we’ve lost something important to us (sadness and grief). With each distinct emotion comes a clue that reminds us to care for ourselves.

2)  Allow your child to feel. Encourage them to explore and listen to their emotions. Help them accept their feelings and assist them in getting curious about how to resolve conflict and deal with uncomfortable feelings.

The ability to resolve inner and outer emotional conflicts is especially critical when a child is bullied. As parents, we need to teach our children to face tough emotions and situations, effectively deal with them, and bounce back with confidence. It's not what happens to us; it's what we make the experience mean about ourselves. One of the primary roles of a parent is to help our children interpret experiences in a positive light and to reframe negative self-talk before their self-esteem takes a hit. This process, once learned, empowers children and teens to make proactive decisions that strengthen them.
Teen boy getting bullied

3)  Acknowledge their feelings and empathize with them. Mirror what you see: “Aww, you look sad.” Or “Wow, you’re really excited!” Or “Whoa, that is one angry face! What’s up?” Then, guide your child to be true to themselves by taking action that shifts them to feeling better.

4)  Seek to understand rather than shame, blame, or punish. Children always have good reasons for their emotions and behavior, even if we have a hard time relating to those reasons. Often, unmet needs drive misbehavior and are a cry for help. Everyone needs to feel heard and understood. Take (and make) time to listen and help your child feel felt.

Related reading: “Quickly Avoid Power Struggles With Children Using Empathy.”

5)  Play the “What If?” Game. Ask age-appropriate, open-ended questions to help your child or teen problem-solve in varying situations. This process helps to activate the cortex, the logical part of the brain. It allows children to internalize different responses that help them succeed in the future, thus, increasing confidence and self-esteem.

      Examples:

  • “What if a child pushes you on the playground, what will you do?”

  • “What if your friend tells you they don’t want to hang out with you?”

  • “What if you or a friend are bullied at school? How can you take care of yourself while also standing up for what is right?”

  • “What if your boyfriend breaks up with you and asks your best friend out for a date?”

  • “What if your friend distracts you when you’re trying to focus in school? How  will you stay on task and respond respectfully?”

  • “What if you’re at a party, and you’re pressured to take drugs?”

This game is a fabulous way to understand how your child thinks, what skills they may need, and also allows you to provide feedback and have vital teaching moments. Plus, your child gets to try on different responses and behaviors in a safe environment with no adverse consequences. Asking open-ended questions requires the child to exercise thinking skills, too.

The above tips give you a solid starting point and ideas to implement if you’re looking to grow more resilience in your children. And while knowing these tips is great, translating them into a new skill can be difficult.

If you want to dive deeper into the ins and outs of resilience, continue reading for an in-depth, step-by-step process for responding consciously in order to better build your child’s adaptability. Hands down, the greatest investment you can make is sharpening your parenting skills.

Related reading: "What Is Resiliency and Why Parents Need It!"
Dad and teenage son enjoying a video together



How to Hone Your Parental Responses to Support Resilience

This section covers:

  • How our reactions can unintentionally send messages that form limiting beliefs in our children.
  • How reactions can be misinterpreted by children and teens, thus creating distance and misunderstandings in our relationships.
  • Converting reactions to opportunities for teaching moments; the how-to of responding more effectively as parents.
  • Examples of different age-appropriate language to help you try a new approach.

It’s helpful when learning something new to have real-life examples to help translate the knowledge into a skill. Examples also make the information more practical and provide language to support the core competencies. Parents are the greatest influence in a child’s life; therefore, our responses need to support healthy development and positive self-esteem.

For more on conscious parenting, read "Visionary Parenting Is the Key to Happy and Capable Children."

A teenager showing her grandfather an app on her phoneTo make this easy, we’ll use the following format to take common parental reactions, reframe, and shift them into responses that engender resiliency in children.

Each Scenario Will Include:

  • Child’s age
  • Situation / Child’s Behavior
  • Common parental reactions to the child’s behavior
    • The feeling stoppers* used in the parental response that could lead to misinterpretation
    • Possible messages or conclusions the child might draw from the parental reaction that could form limiting beliefs
  • An enhanced parental response using feeling encouragers* that promote self-awareness, encourage emotional modulation, and help develop resiliency
  • Purpose of the revised response and why it works!

* Feeling stoppers – Any action or response that attempts to shut down the emotional expression of ourselves or another and blocks open and safe communication.

* Feeling encouragers – Any action or response that nurtures emotional development and promotes the healthy expression of feelings.


Application of new skills




SCENARIO #1

 


CHILD’S AGE:
 
4-5 years old

SITUATION AND CHILD’S BEHAVIOR: Your child’s friend said they don’t want to be your child’s friend anymore; your child is whining, moping, and whimpering.

COMMON PARENTAL REACTION: “Stop crying like a baby." or "Don’t worry, you’ll make new friends.”

          Feeling Stoppers Used in Parental Reaction: shaming, blocking, minimizing

Child’s Possible Interpretations That Could Form Limiting Beliefs:

    • “It’s not okay to feel.”
    • “Emotions make me look like a baby.” Or “Feelings are for babies.”
    • “Don’t be sad, because you can make new friends.”

ENHANCED PARENTAL RESPONSE (Using Feeling Encouragers):

    • “Sounds like you’re having a hard time. What can you do to take care of    yourself right now?”
    • “You’re feeling sad about your friend, aren’t you?”
    • If you don’t know why your child is feeling blue: “Aww… it looks like you’re feeling hurt about something? Do you want to talk about it?”

Purpose: Feeling encouragers help the child feel understood and seen, build emotional literacy and self-awareness while teaching the child that they are responsible for how they feel, not the parent. The child is supported, and therefore will likely not feel alone and their feelings will be less overwhelming. Now, the child experiences that they can handle big emotions and don’t lose love when expressed.


Application of a skill

 

SCENARIO #2

 

CHILD’S AGE:  8-12 years old

SITUATION AND CHILD’S BEHAVIOR:  Your child complains about cleaning their bedroom or doing their chores.

COMMON PARENTAL REACTION:  “Hush! It’s not that bad!” "This chore is your responsibility so stop complaining." or "I'm so sick of everything turning into a power struggle with you. It's a small job so just do it."

          Feeling Stoppers Used in Parental Reaction: minimizing, lecturing, shaming

Child’s Possible Interpretations That Could Form Limiting Beliefs:

    • What I feel isn’t important to you.” or “My feelings don’t matter.”
    • "It only matters what you want or feel."
    • “I shouldn’t feel bad; my feelings are inaccurate.”

ENHANCED PARENTAL RESPONSE (Using Feeling Encouragers):

    • “Yeah, chores can be a drag when we’d rather be doing something else.”
    • “Looks like you’re struggling to get motivated. What can you do to make the work more enjoyable or go faster?”
      Parent Tip: Try wadding up the dirty clothes and start shooting baskets into the laundry hamper. This helps the child get back on task in a playful and unexpected way. Once the child is engaged, leave, and let the child finish cleaning.     

Purpose: Acknowledges the child’s feelings, identifies a lacking motivation, and requires the child to check in with themselves. The parent playfully engages the child but does not do the chores for them, plus shows them a way to shift their attitude and motivate themselves in the future.


Application of a skill

 

 

SCENARIO #3



CHILD’S AGE:
14-17 years old

SITUATION AND CHILD’S BEHAVIOR: Your teen slams the front door and throws their phone across the room.

COMMON PARENTAL REACTION:  “There’s no reason to get so upset! We paid good money for that phone, so if you’re going to treat it like that, maybe you shouldn’t have one!”

Feeling Stoppers Used in Parental Reaction: denial, lecturing

Child’s Possible Interpretations That Could Form Limiting Beliefs:

    • “My experience is illegitimate or invalid.”
    • “You only care about my phone, not why I’m upset.”
    • “Anger is unacceptable.”
ENHANCED PARENTAL RESPONSE (Using Feeling Encouragers):
    • “Wow! You're really angry! Would you like to share what’s going on?”
    • “Gosh, it’s so unlike you to treat your phone like that. Something must have really upset you. How can I support you?”
      Then follow up later when your teen is calm and discuss the proper care of technology and logical consequences for any future misuse.

Purpose: Gives empathy while showing the child an accurate mirror and giving support, which helps to diffuse the charged emotions. Sharing the experience with you will help the child process their emotions and calm. Waiting until their calm to hold them accountable for proper care of their phone will have a much better outcome because they will have felt understood earlier.

Won’t Responding with Feeling Encouragers Reward My Child’s MisBehavior?

You might be thinking that you’ll be rewarding inappropriate behavior, such as your teen throwing their phone, if you respond lovingly and with feeling encouragers right after the child “misbehaves.” This is a common objection I frequently hear from parents.

Brain research shows that loving and consistent responses from a caregiver provide stability, security, and promote higher reasoning. Harsh reactions can hardwire stress responses making the rage system in the lower survival brain overreactive, often reinforcing a negative view of themselves and the world. Specifically, during the teenage years, a teen’s logical brain is hijacked by the limbic brain and brain stem due to massive development in the cortex. This phase causes a child to be mouthier and more reactive since the cortex is the modulator of emotions.

Michael J. Bradley, author of the book, Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy! has this to say:

“The fact that her words and actions are crazy does not mean that the underlying thoughts and feelings have any less value to her than yours do to you. Listening means valuing your kid’s thoughts and feelings as being important to her, and thus important to you.”

If you want to model emotional intelligence and desire to have your children fully equipped for life as they enter adulthood, you must exhibit mature and measured responses.

Mother looking lovingly at her teenager

Translation = parents have to be the adult on board.

If you respond with knee-jerk reactions, yell, punish, shame, etc., your child can no longer feel their own feelings because your behavior and judgments eclipse their experience. Your teen begins thinking about how “unfair,” “irrational,” or “mean” their parent is instead of tending to their own needs and feelings. They lose an essential opportunity to develop thinking skills, emotional modulation, create more understanding in themselves and closeness in their relationship with you.

Do yourself a favor, when you’re upset, stop and press your pause button—calm down before responding. Restrain reactions, calm, and speak wisely. Get in touch with the long-term goals of raising your children and the values you hold dear.

For an effective way to learn about feeling stoppers and how to replace them with empathy, check out our Real Empathy, Real Solutions Self-Coaching workbook.

LEARN MORE

The concepts of feeling stoppers and feeling encourages are part of the Redirecting Children’s Behavior class that we conduct at the Heartmanity Center. If you're interested, contact us! And if you’d like personalized parenting coaching, call us at Heartmanity (406) 577-2100.

Supporting parents with skills is what Heartmanity does!

 

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Jennifer A. Williams / Parent CoachJennifer A. Williams / Parent Coach
Jennifer’s mission is to create thriving relationships at home and work. She coaches children, teens, and their parents in her private practice located in Bozeman, Montana. Jennifer is a parenting instructor of Redirecting Children's Behavior and an Instructor Trainer for the International Network for Children and Families. She's been a parent educator for the past twenty years. Jennifer is also the author of "The Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence for Children" and co-author of "Hacking the Teen Brain" courses. She frequents homes and schools as regularly as a behavioral consultant to help with challenging behaviors. Jennifer is married to her beloved husband of 39 years and is the mother of three grown children.

Posted in Perfectly Imperfect Parenting, Parenting Favorites