Tips and Strategies for Supporting a Preschooler's Resilience

Be truthful. Include your children in conversations about what they’re noticing. They pick up on changes in routine and mood through your words, tone of voice and body language. By speaking honestly with children, you help to ensure they aren’t left alone with feelings of confusion or worry.

 

Check in to see what they’ve overheard. Consider what kids may have overheard in your day-to-day conversations. Then, ask questions with the goal of correcting misconceptions. You can say, “I was talking to Zach’s mom. What did you hear us talking about?” It’s best to not make assumptions. Let kids bring up worries rather than assume what they’re upset about. A child’s worry might be, Is Daddy going to get Coronavirus? Or, simply, Why can’t I stay up later?

 

Watch for signs of distress. Some children manifest worry by withdrawing. Others act out. They may or may not know what’s upsetting them. When your child is having a bad day, you can show love and support by asking, “Do you want an extra hug today?” “You're upset. Do you know what’s upsetting you?”

 

Incorporate safety into daily conversations. Remind children of routine safety practices. “We washed our hands before dinner. You wore a bike helmet. We wore our masks. We wore our seat belts.” That’s how wearing a mask and extra handwashing become just part of the normal routine.

 

Reinforce positive safety behaviors. You can thank your child for being a good helper. “Nice job putting on your own mask.” Some parents tap into their child’s love of superheroes. You can say, “Superheroes do good things for other people. By wearing a mask, you’re helping to protect the people around you. You’re being a brave superhero!”

 

Engage in play. You can help children express what’s on their mind by joining in play with their toys and making space for fantasy play. Listen so you can follow up on any misconceptions later, without interrupting their play.   

 

Maintain routines. Structure and consistency provides children with a sense of normalcy and security. Developing a regular daily routine of getting dressed in the morning, regular mealtimes, a balance of activity and quiet time, and bedtime rituals often help children feel more settled, and their behavior reflects this. Reviewing the plan for the day – in the morning or the night before – conveys that home is a safe place.

 

Practice self-care. Juggling so many responsibilities often feels overwhelming. Carving out small moments to relax can help. For example: Take a few deep breaths, pause and slowly exhale. This relaxes your nervous system and helps reduce stress. “A problem shared is a problem halved.” Identify the trusted people with whom you can share worries.

 

Cut yourself some slack. Identify daily tasks that really need to get done and consciously let go of those that can wait. No child has ever said, “I wish we had fewer dirty dishes in the sink.”

 

Ask for help. Open communication is vital to maintaining healthy relationships. You can share, “I’m not able to sustain this level of household tasks/childcare, plus work. I can hear how irritable I sound. Can we find a way to divide the tasks? It’s important that we get through these times appreciating each other.” Having these conversations is better than letting resentment build up.

 

Actively appreciate those around you. In times of stress, everyone feels they’re doing more and being appreciated less. An extra “thank you” can go long way. “I know how much you’re doing. Thanks so much for running that errand.” Showing appreciation is often helpful to the receiver and to you. Practicing gratitude builds resilience.

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Check out our Words Can Work products to support vital conversations with young people about public and mental health challenges they face growing up. Produced by Jeanne Blake with advisors from McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

 

Tips and Strategies for Supporting a Preteen's Resilience

Establish a routine. Maintaining a daily and weekly routine – time to wake up, do schoolwork, take mini-breaks, eat meals, and play fun activities – offers predictability and security. It’s more important now than usual for home to be a place where children know what’s coming next.

 

Help your child maintain peer relationships. Children learn skills through interactions with peers, including how to be a good friend and ways to resolve conflict. With other parents, teachers and coaches, find creative, safe ways to keep children connected with friends online or in-person.

 

Build skills and self-esteem through planned family time. Children thrive on experiencing a sense of accomplishment. Encourage your child to learn a new skill such as cooking or join the family in an activity such as putting together a complicated jig-saw puzzle. The positive feelings generated will persist long after the pandemic ends.

 

Prioritize best talking times. Identify times your child is most likely to open up – during a walk, while you’re making dinner, or at bedtime. Sometimes let your child initiate conversation. At other times you can check in through open-ended questions. “What was the best part of your day? What was most frustrating?”

 

Monitor online activity. Playing online games is one way preteens can connect with friends. It’s important to supervise children’s activity to ensure the games are age appropriate and that they’re playing with friends, not cyber strangers.

 

Talk about social media. Some children may feel left out when seeing pictures or video of peers having fun. You can ask, “Does social media help you feel better or worse?” Having these conversations when children are young helps them learn and set boundaries that will be helpful throughout adolescence. It also opens up conversations with parents about these challenges.  

 

Help your child learn to self-regulate. Childhood is a key time to learn to manage emotions: how to pause when upset, calm yourself down, figure out what you feel and why, and tell someone what you need. Being present, asking open-ended questions and listening can teach children these important skills.

 

Stay tuned in. You know your child well. When you notice changes in mood and behavior, talk with your child to see whether they have a worry or concern you can help them address. Changes in behavior that last more than a week or two signal it’s time to check in with your pediatrician or mental health provider.

 

Communicate about moods. You can help children verbalize their worries by wondering out loud – rather than telling them what they’re feeling. You can ask, “Are you upset about something at school?" “Are you missing your friends?” “I don't want you to be worrying alone, so I need to hear more about what you're thinking about.” Then wait for a response.

 

Build your child’s vocabulary about emotions. Being able to talk about emotions is an important life skill. Help your child understand it’s normal to have worries – and to not be afraid of big or negative emotions. Learning to manage uncomfortable feelings helps prepare children for the intense emotions of adolescence.

 

Set a hopeful tone. It can be hard for parents to stay positive when stressed. When you talk candidly about your own emotions, you model healthy behavior to your child and convey a sense of hope. You can say, “I had a really hard day today. Work was stressful. I'm going to listen to my favorite music. Some days are like this. I expect tomorrow to be better!”

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Check out our Words Can Work products to support vital conversations with young people about alcohol and other drugs, depression, bullying and more. Produced by Jeanne Blake with advisors from McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Tips and Strategies for Supporting a Teen's Resilience

Acknowledge the loss of independence. Open-ended questions can encourage your teen to talk about the losses he or she feels due to the pandemic. You can ask, “What do you miss most about hanging out with your friends?” When you listen, really listen, and affirm their feelings, you help keep communication open.

 

Listen more than you talk. When you create opportunities for children to talk openly – and listen with your eyes and ears (putting down your technology) – adolescents are more likely to tell you how they’re feeling.

 

Brainstorm safe ways to connect. Interaction with peers is key to adolescents establishing their identity, so keeping these connections strong is important. When you brainstorm with your teen creative, safe ways to spend positive time with friends – in-person or online – you demonstrate that you understand and care.

 

Encourage new skill-building. Learning something new – to cook, play chess or other skill – helps teens to compensate for some of their temporary loss of independence. When a child works hard at something, improves and is acknowledged for the achievement, self-esteem is boosted.

 

Encourage acts of kindness. Doing for others helps adolescents thrive: an errand for an elderly neighbor; soccer skills practice with a sibling; litter pick-up in the neighborhood. Helping others generates positive emotions and regulates teens’ moods.

 

Acknowledge missed milestones. It may seem a teen is overreacting to missed activities such as a theater production, birthday party or sporting event. When you validate feelings of loss, frustration or sadness, and remind your child of future milestones he or she will enjoy, your child feels heard, valued and a sense of hope.

 

Talk openly about alcohol and other drugs. When young people use substances to cope, they aren’t learning to handle emotions in a healthy way. You can open up a conversation with a general question such as, “What are you learning in school about alcohol and other drugs?” Or “Are any of your friends experimenting with substances?” You can then ask a more specific question like, “What would you do if you felt pressured to use drugs?” 

 

Watch for mood changes. If you note a change in your teen’s moods or behavior, check in with open-ended questions: “I notice you’re spending more time in your room. Can you tell me how you’re feeling?” “You seem more frustrated than usual. Can you tell me about that?”

Be open about depression and suicide. Suicide is a leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds. Any time children talk about life not being worth living, it’s important to seek immediate professional help. Avoid brushing off comments with, “Oh, you don’t mean that!” Rather, let your child know he or she is not alone, and while bad times may feel like they’ll last forever, they’re temporary. Talking with teens about suicide doesn’t make it more likely to happen; it makes it less likely. 

 

Know when to seek professional mental health support. Adolescents are often moody. But when moodiness persists and  symptoms are ongoing and worsening – difficulties with schoolwork, sleeping more or sleeping less, or other persistent change in typical behavior – check in with your pediatrician or mental health professional.

 

Practice self-care. Even a few minutes of quiet, or deep breathing can calm your mind and help you to better manage incoming stress. Be mindful of staying connected with a trusted friend or partner with whom you can be honest about your emotions. As the saying goes, “A problem shared is a problem halved.”

Download Tips and Strategies for Supporting a Teen's Resilience

 

Click here for Additional Resources

Check out our Words Can Work products to support vital conversations with young people about alcohol and other drugs, depression, bullying and more. Produced by Jeanne Blake with advisors from McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

 
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