Resilient families develop their own words and phrases to help each other get through the inevitable tough times that each person experiences. The language of resilience generally refers to coping strategies such as empathy, humour and acceptance.
Here are 10 examples of the language of resilience, the coping skills each reflects and the types of situations in which they are applicable.
1. “Come on, laugh it off”
Good for: Kids who experience disappointment, failure and even loss.
Humour is a great coping strategy and a powerful tool for resilience as it heightens feelings of control. Some children and young people will naturally crack jokes or make fun of seemingly serious situations. This is a fantastic way to release stress and handle feelings of helplessness. As a parent you may need to lighten up tense situations by introducing humour of your own, which is something that many dads do really well.
2. “Don’t let this spoil everything”
Strategy: Containing thinking
Good for: Kids who feel overwhelmed; kids who experience rejection; perfectionists.
The ability to compartmentalise bad events and keep them from affecting all areas of life is a powerful coping skill. Sportspeople, politicians and others who work in the public arena need to be adept at it. When something unpleasant happens during recess, for example, kids need to park their thinking about that event so they can get on with the rest of the day. The ability to compartmentalise thinking is a fantastic life skill kids can learn within their family.
3. “Let’s take a break”
Good for: Kids experiencing stressful situations; kids who think too much; kids with busy lives.
When kids are troubled by events or spend too much time brooding, it helps to do something to get their minds off things for a time. Playing games, spending time together, watching some TV, going out – are all good distracters for worried, anxious or stressed kids. Self-distraction is healthy, providing some welcome perspective. It also prevents kids from replaying awful experiences in their heads, blowing them out of proportion.
4. “Who have you spoken to about this?”
Strategy: Seeking help
Good for: Kids who experience bullying and social problems; handling all types of personal worries.
Resilient people seek solace in the company of others when they experience difficulty. That’s why social connection is such a strong preventative strategy for young people. The promotion of help-seeking behaviours is one of the best coping strategies of all. Even if kids don’t overtly talk about what’s bothering them, it can be immensely reassuring to spend time around others who are empathetic, understanding and willing to listen and help.
5. “I know it looks bad now but you will get through this”
Strategy: Offering hope
Good for: Kids experiencing loss, bullying, change or extreme disappointment.
There are times when parents can do nothing else but keep their children’s chins up and encourage them when life doesn’t go their way. Being the ‘hope’ person can be hard work, that’s why parents need to be supported by resilient people and workplaces, too. It helps to be mindful that a child or young person’s resilience is nurtured by the presence of at least one supportive adult. You may have to be that person.
6. “What can you learn from this so it doesn’t happen next time?”
Strategy: Positive reframing
Good for: Kids who make mistakes, let others down or experience personal disappointment.
One of the common attributes of optimistic people is their ability to find a learning, or look for a message, in difficult or negative situations. Parents can help kids reframe events to help them see things differently. For instance, rather than regarding a public speaking opportunity as problematic and a chance to look foolish it’s better to reframe it as a challenge and a chance to shine. It also helps when parents model reframing so kids see you changing how you view seemingly negative or worrying situations.
7. “Don’t worry – relax and see what happens!”
Good for: Kids who worry about exams or performing poorly in any endeavour; pessimists.
If you’ve ever been driving to an important event only to be stuck in traffic then you would know that there are some situations you just can’t control. The only way to cope is to accept what’s happening because worrying and fretting won’t get you anywhere. Similarly, parents with a resilience mindset can help kids understand what’s worth worrying about and what’s not, and that some things won’t change no matter how much kids fret or beat themselves up!
8. “This isn’t the end of the world”
Strategy: Maintaining perspective
Good for: Kids who catastrophise or blow things out of proportion.
While most of us catastrophise at times, jumping to the worst possible conclusion, it is a habit that only exaggerates anxiety. When kids constantly think the worst case scenario, challenge their views. “Yes, you could end up not knowing anyone at camp but you won’t be the only one. Besides you’ll probably end up making new friends like you generally do.”
9. “You could be right. But have you thought about … ”
Strategy: Flexible thinking
Good for: Kids who catastrophise; experience extreme feelings; who exaggerate.
Many children and young people talk in extremes – ‘awesome’, ‘the best’, ‘the worst’ and ‘gross’ roll off their tongues easily these days. Unfortunately, their extreme language leads to extreme emotional responses. Develop the habit of winding back their language by introducing shades of grey, rather than black and white. Replace “I’m furious” with “I’m annoyed”. “It’s an absolute disaster” with “It’s a pain”. “I can’t stand it” with “I don’t like it”. Realistic language leads to realistic thinking, which helps kids handle many ordinary situations that they have blown out of proportion.
10. “What can we do about this?”
Strategy: Taking action
Good for: Kids who mope; who experience disappointment; who feel inadequate.
Kids can sometimes feel overwhelmed by events such as constant failure, constant rejection or always narrowly missing being picked for a team. They can be overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and helplessness. Action is often the best remedy. Help them take the first step forward. Set some goals. Make some plans. Identify the first step and hold their hand while they take it. Taking action is a quality shared by resilient communities, organisations and individuals.
Bring resilience into your everyday language
Resilient parents focus on building children’s and young people’s strengths for the future, while helping them cope with the present difficulties and challenges they experience.
The key to promoting resilience lies in the language that parents use. My challenge for parents is to make resilience an integral part of your family’s proprietary language. You’ll know you have succeeded if your children as adults remind you, when they hear any complaints or whinges from you in your dotage, to ‘hang in there’, ‘this too will pass’ and ‘find the funny side’. Granted they may be phrases you don’t want to hear, but at least you know that you’ve drummed into your kids some important core messages that have stayed for life.