December 2021 - Developing Resiliency
We asked Psychologist, Dr. Monica Whitehead about Resiliency and helping kids and teens deal with ups and downs.
Dr. Whitehead is a pediatric psychologist who has experience in a variety of settings including medical inpatient units, the emergency department, primary care clinics, and within an intensive outpatient setting. She treats a variety of presenting concerns including anxiety, depression, adjustment, ADHD, Tics, and other common concerns. While she is a generalist by trade, she enjoys treating anxiety and OCD the most.
Pre-teens and teens go through lots of changes. Can you tell us a little bit about the developmental stage of this age group?
This stage is all about change! At this age, teens are trying out new interests, personalities, friend groups, and exploring romantic relationships. These changes will come BIG emotions (thanks hormones). Additionally, whereas younger children will turn to their parents as their primary source of information, tweens and teens will begin to be more independent and will turn more and more to friends for support and guidance. With more of an emphasis on peer relationships, this does open the door to peer pressure to experiment with alcohol, drugs, sex, and rule-breaking behavior. These developmental changes also call for a change in how you as a parent may have handled your tween’s hurdles in the past.
What is resiliency and why is it so important to development?
Resiliency is our ability to keep going despite challenges, adversity, stress, and trauma. We are all born with some degree of resilience but this is a skill that can be taught and strengthened over time by trying different ways to cope and overcome hard times. Certainly life will come with its ups and downs, and learning how to manage these while continuing to function through life is so important. We can build resiliency by trying different ways to cope instead of getting stuck using the same approach over and over, especially if it isn’t helpful. Trying to stay active, honoring our commitments, thinking about things from different perspectives, spending time outside of our room, treating ourselves as we’d treat a friend, are only a few of many different ways to try to build resiliency.
What can parents do to foster good decision making with this age group?
Be in the know (parents and tweens)! Knowing who your tween’s friends and their parents are can help boost your confidence in the choices they’re making. It will also help if you’re very clear on your expectations regarding adult presence with friends, curfews and rides, romantic relationships, alcohol, etc. These conversations may be uncomfortable but necessary.
Remain calm! Your tween will be more likely to come to you for help with decisions if they know they will be greeted with interest and empathy.
· Model good decision making as well. This can be easier said than done because we as parents also experience our own stressors and challenges! Show them that when you encounter struggles, you can press pause, think, and act with a clear head.
· Be prepared that you will not agree with all of their choices and decisions. Hear them out and let them make their own choices for decisions that are less important to you, even if you think you have a better solution. Sometimes the best learning comes by trying.
· Practice and plan together! If your tween is asking for help in what to do, help them think through alternatives, plan for the solution, and practice it out together! They’re more likely to use the solution in real time if they rehearsed it ahead of time.
From a Psychological standpoint how can parents empower their children to cope with challenges?
So much of pre-adolescence and adolescence is about managing (and tolerating) distress!
· When a tween turns to their parents in times of challenge, many parents want to go into problem-solving mode, we want our children to feel better! However, that may not be what that tween needs in the moment. Instead, validate, listen, and reflect. If the tween is open, offer one or two things you as a parent can do (“I can give you a hug or make some hot chocolate”), but if the tween is not receptive, just listen and sit in silence. Once the moment has passed and the emotional intensity has decreased, then offer the tween to help with problem solving (coming up with different solutions if the situation were to arise in the future).
· When challenges arise, many times tweens want to disengage, to withdraw. Encourage them to continue on—if something happened at school, encourage them to go to school, or if something happened with a friend, prompt them to continue to socialize. You can also gently nudge their way of thinking about the situation. For example, if a tween says “my best friend hates me,” a parent can inquisitively ask “Do you know that with 100% certainty? Is there another way to look at this? What happened last time you had a fight?” Coping usually involves some combination of changing our perception, engaging in appropriate activities, and relaxing, so encouraging healthy skills within these broader categories will be helpful and empowering!
The American Academy of Pediatrics—lots of parent-friendly and validated articles!