FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 7, 2018
The Path to Resilience
Structure and Consequence
By Heather Wilson, M.A.
Psychologist-Master and the Early Childhood Support Team Leader
Northwestern Counseling & Support Services
This is the second of a nine part series with the goal of capturing those people or organizations in our community who are working to cultivate each of the nine components of resilience and highlight a youth voice impacted by this work.
Throughout college, I had always thought of resilience as a positive outcome for individuals that had endured significant challenges or trauma. It was seen as a compliment, a testament of character and strength for people that had survived an ordeal. Since that time, I have come to learn that resilience is not just for individuals that have experienced adverse childhood experiences, natural disasters, or other traumatic events. Resilience is for everyone, and we can start building resilience in kids at a young age.
Being resilient means being able to withstand stress and bounce back from hardship. Stress and change are a constant in our lives, and resilience describes the component that ensures we continue to keep momentum and move forward. According to resilience expert Michael Ungar, PhD., two important elements to help children build resilience are structure and consequence
Structure is a key strategy to help children become more resilient. A reasonable amount of structure lets children know that they are loved and cared for by their parents and caregivers. Consistency is important; however, it is not expected that every minute of the day is structured. Some ways to create more structure in your home include: visual schedules, established routines, and social stories. A simple visual schedule has pictures or photos that a child can understand regardless of reading ability. A social story works in the same way to illustrate a social concept or activity with clear steps and instructions. These strategies can diminish challenging behavior if the child knows what to expect by creating a sense of predictability, safety, and security. Start with rules and expectations that allow for flexibility as your child becomes older.
Courtney Grimes, Community Coordinator at the Parent Child Center of Northwestern Counseling & Support Services (NCSS), describes how strategies with a focus on increasing structure have helped a family she visits in the home. “Molly” and her daughter “Lily” (names have been changed to protect their privacy) have been working on setting up routines in the home. Lily is not yet in child care, and is headed to kindergarten in the fall. “Having a schedule is going to help her get ready for school and gives her a sense of what to expect during the day,” Molly reports.
Another important element to build resilience in children is consequence. Consequences help our children understand the impact of their actions. They work best when they are immediate and logical, especially for young children, while older children can tolerate longer-term consequences. A short break from an activity or toy for a small child is appropriate, while you may remove a special privilege from an adolescent that is unrelated to the behavior. It is important to choose a consequence and follow-through. A parent can process the event with their child when their child has regulated, and explore the impact on other people in the family or on their friends. This is an opportunity to teach empathy, so children can understand the impact their actions have on others.
Parents and caregivers have a variety of individuals to turn to for questions and support with child development and parenting. Support is available from pediatricians, child care providers, schools, libraries, and providers like the WIC program through the Vermont Department of Health. WIC provides nutritional support to families eligible for Medicaid through access to healthy foods, nutrition education/counseling, and breastfeeding support.
“We know that raising a family can be challenging and we understand the stressors and difficulties that may occur in daily life,” states Rachael Gregory, a public health nutritionist and lactation consultant with the Vermont Department of Health. “During our time with families, we provide information and education about what to expect during each stage of the child’s development which can help reduce stress and foster achievement. Occasionally, we encounter families that may need more support than we can provide, so we connect them to other support systems in our community.”
WIC provides referrals beyond the scope of nutrition, directing families to a variety of resources throughout the community, including the local Parent Child Center of NCSS. Nutritionists at WIC like Rachael have a reassuring way of letting families know that their concerns or challenges are normal, and that help is available. “We believe families thrive when they are connected to other families and concrete supports so they have the knowledge to address the physical and emotional developmental needs of their children, and have trusted community providers to share guidance and, when needed, engage in therapeutic services in partnership with the family,” Rachael Gregory advocates.
NCSS uses a multi-generational approach to treat families and build resilience. While growing resilient kids is a priority for our community, so are resilient parents. Our work is guided by Strengthening Families: A Protective Factors Framework. Among the five protective factors that help families, parental resilience is often at the top of the list. We work directly with the parent to help them with managing stress when they face challenges and adversity. A parent with effective and healthy coping skills is a terrific model for a growing and developing child.
Jess Dewes, Master Clinician and a licensed clinical mental health counselor at NCSS, works with mothers during pregnancy and the postpartum period to increase wellness. Through counseling in the home, they have addressed building parental resilience through mindfulness, exercise, tobacco reduction, social support from the group Baby Bumps, and regular medical appointments with primary care, home health, and substance treatment providers.
Building resilience in our community is a team effort, and we are all invested in working together to ensure healthy and resilient kids. These kids will create the foundation for the next generation as parents, employees, employers, and engaged community members. For some of our families who face significant challenges, the road ahead is long. It is important to have allies stationed along the way, offering a hand and providing encouragement. With healthy and ready supports, barriers lessen and resistance can begin to fade away, allowing our families to thrive.