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How to Help Children Build Resilience in Uncertain Times

Updated: Sep 24, 2023

Three children lay on the grass and two hold emoji faces to emphasize how to help children build resilience

It’s important to help children build resilience, especially during uncertain times, because the effects of childhood trauma can be long-lasting and detrimental. Here are some ways to do it.

Key takeaways:

  • Children today are living under the pressure of multiple crises.

  • Trauma isn’t necessarily about what happens, but the way it’s processed in the body.

  • Childhood trauma can continue to impact children into their adult lives.

  • Helping children build resilience is the key to overcoming trauma.

  • There are many ways to help your child build resilience, including by empowering them and helping them build emotional regulation.

Although many people make light of traumatic experiences during childhood by making jokes about them, childhood trauma is very real. Even if trauma happens when a child is very young, its effects can be long-lasting – even continuing into adulthood. Adults who experienced childhood trauma often experience higher rates of mental health challenges, physical illnesses, including chronic illnesses, and difficulty in relationships.

In a perfect world, no child would ever experience trauma. As a caregiver, it’s hard to accept, but your child will inevitably experience some type of trauma – perhaps even from something you’ve done, even if it was totally unintentional.

So, how can you help prevent trauma from wreaking havoc on your child’s life through adulthood? You can help minimize its effects on your child by helping him or her build resilience.

This is especially important during the uncertain times we are currently living in. Today’s children are living through crisis after crisis. They are faced with many pressures, including disruptions to their education from the pandemic, potential grief and loss, the fear of gun violence in schools, and housing instability, food insecurity, poverty, and many other things that can cause trauma. Let’s talk about how to help your child become resilient!

Childhood trauma explained

When many of us think of childhood trauma, we tend to think of obvious events like physical or sexual abuse. Childhood trauma doesn’t have to be something so drastic, though. Any stressful situation can cause trauma for a child. It can even occur when the event doesn’t happen directly to the child.

This is known as vicarious trauma. It can happen when a child witnesses or hears about something traumatic happening to someone else. A topical example would be children who become afraid to go to school after seeing reports of a school shooting. It’s important to remember that trauma isn’t what happened – it’s how the body responds. That’s why siblings who grow up in the same household may have drastically different outcomes despite being exposed to the same stressors.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences study

When children experience events that are dangerous, violent, or life-threatening, it’s called an “adverse childhood experience” or ACE for short.

A landmark study called The Adverse Childhood Events (ACE) study helped to show researchers just how common childhood trauma is. Almost two-thirds of respondents affirmed at least one adverse childhood event, with over 10% of people reporting an ACE score of four or more. Having such an elevated ACE score is indicative of a high level of neglect, abuse, or victimization of a child.

Many studies show that the more trauma a child has, the more likely they are to develop a chronic illness as adults. This includes health concerns like cancer, chronic pain, cardiovascular disease, asthma, diabetes, and more.

The role of resilience and how to help children build resilience.

Research from Harvard has cited resilience as one of the key factors in helping children overcome hardships. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines resilience as “the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.” Here are some ways to help your child build the skills to develop positive adaptation.

  • Develop a positive and supportive relationship with your child, and help them build community. Harvard’s research on resilience and childhood development reported that “the single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or adult.” Help them build positive relationships with other trusted adults, such as family members, community members, or family friends.

  • Teach your child emotional regulation skills. Teaching emotional regulation can help children learn to self-soothe when they become stressed. One of the primary hallmarks of trauma is feeling severe sustained stress that a child feels is beyond their control. Children who learn how to regulate their emotions are able to feel empowered and cope with stress better.

  • Model healthy behaviors. Children pick up behavior patterns from their caregivers – so if you want to help your child increase their resilience, you can aid them by improving yours. This may mean attending therapy to heal your own trauma, or learning new coping skills and stress management strategies.

  • Empower your child. Because one of the hallmarks of trauma is feeling like a situation is beyond your control, empowering your child can help lessen the likelihood of feeling that they have no control. Offer them choices where appropriate and help them focus on positive things they can do in a stressful situation, such as journaling, reaching out to a friend, or even using distraction techniques such as volunteering. Help them develop a sense of mastery.

  • Be a safe space. Be the caregiver you needed in your life when you were growing up. Don’t make your child feel shamed, judged, or afraid to speak to you about their feelings. Validate their concerns and fears, ask them if they’d like suggestions, and foster an open-door environment where communication is healthy and feels safe for your child.

We are unfortunately living through times of sustained crisis right now; this is anxiety-provoking for adults, so imagine how it feels to children and teens who are already living with limited control over their lives. Helping your child to feel like they aren’t helpless can help them foster resilience and be prepared for whatever comes their way.

Get support from a therapist in the Miami area

Sometimes despite your best efforts – and the level of resilience of your child – childhood trauma can still occur. You may even be dealing with childhood trauma of your own. Seeking professional help is sometimes required to facilitate healing. Individual therapy for trauma can be tremendously beneficial – and, when you heal your own trauma, you lessen the likelihood of repeating generational cycles with your child(ren).

The team at Love Discovery is ready to welcome you with open arms. If you’re ready to get started in therapy to help you process trauma, make an appointment with any of our therapists today. Feeling unsure about how we can help you? Call 305.605.LOVE (5683) for consultation.

We are here to support you on your journey to improve your mental health.

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