When Resilient Kids Become Anxious Kids
Real Parents Have Resilience
I often hear adults remark about their resilient kids when stressors mount. That’s always troubled me because depending on kids’ resilience when they are under stress can strain their cognitive and emotional strength and development. Resilient kids can become anxious kids.
If the pressures in their lives mount, these children may appear to weather what is affecting them, but pay for it with anxiety when they are teens and young adults. These resilient kids become anxious kids because of something called “premature emotional development.” They are prematurely tolerating emotions they are too young to bear.
Adults are the ones who need to be resilient—resilient enough to reinvent their parenting when they falter in the face of difficult emotional hardships such as unemployment, divorce, loss of the lives of people in their children’s world, natural disasters and other traumas.
Life Doesn’t Follow Straight Lines
It’s up to us as parents to shoulder the burdens and rise to meet the challenges of life with hard work and creativity in our major job—being mothers and fathers.
We need to be parents who relentlessly oversee problems our children encounter with boundless devotion, a huge heart, and rock-solid integrity.
Sometimes parents have to grow into a team as mother and father even if they have difficulties in their partnership or reside separately. Since parental partnerships can collide and divide, they have to regrow into allies for their children even when parents live apart.
With fathers increasing involvement in the last decades in nurturing, child care and play, this is even more possible.
Real Parenting is a Calling
Parenting is a balancing act between continuity and change. We must learn what it means to answer to the call of being parents. This is our commitment—to walk the high road safely and securely for our children’s well-being.
Keeping Our Child’s Mind in Mind
Children want parents to respect their minds and communications all the time, but especially when they are in the midst of uphill battles among several mothers and fathers–parents and stepparents–who don’t see eye-to-eye.
What is the New Conventional Family?
Children are born into familial circumstances that differ from their peers due to revolutionized reproductive strategies, stay-at-home fathers, gay parents, older parents, and a wide array of caretakers. It is wonderful to have so many options to become parents, but children often feel different from others.
There is no longer a conventional family. It’s not easy feeling different. The need for feelings of belonging remains within a family and within a peer group.
Parenting Requires a Special Intelligence.
Now is the time to Unlock Your Parental Intelligence in this new millennial.
How is this done?
We can take the time to find meaning in our child’s behavior with five powerful steps:
• Stepping back
• Understand Your Child’s Mind,
• Understand Your Child’s Development, and
• Problem Solving
Using Parental Intelligence for a Resilient Child
Mom and Lidia
Step One: Stepping Back
Your ten-year-old daughter is crying over spilled milk. She is usually a resilient kid. Even over the past six months when her parents separated, she seemed to weather the change very well.
No one has gotten upset with her behavior, spilling the milk, in fact, Mom cleaned it right up and told her, “Sweetheart don’t worry. Accidents happen. We just clean them up. It’s so easy.”
But something about this wasn’t easy. Lydia continued crying, even sobbing. As Mom held her, she stepped back in her mind. This meant she didn’t say more but let her mind wander non-judgmentally, asking herself, “What this is all about?” Why does my resilient child seem so anxious, unsettled, upset?
In Mom’s quiet, Lydia got up and said, “It’s okay, Mommy. I feel better.”
Step Two: Self-Reflecting
It’s so disconcerting. You begin to self-reflect. You realize you feel very sad and tearful yourself. You remember you felt this kind of sadness years ago when Lidia got pneumonia and had to stay in the hospital for three days. You never left her side as she went in and out of sleep. You feared for her well-being. The sadness you’re feeling now feels similar.
Understanding Your Child’s Mind
You begin to consider how Lidia’s mind has been working lately. She’s been finishing her homework much more slowly. She’s always been a good student, but she seems to be having trouble staying focused when she reads.
She’s been clingier. She’s been asking you to sit by her side while she works. She hasn’t done that in a few years.
Thinking About Her Dad
She’s been asking questions about her father lately. Asking exactly where he is when he’s working. When you remind her he’s in the store as usual, she stops her questions and walks out of the kitchen. You realize she misses him terribly.
Ah, here is Lidia’s sadness that poured out with the milk. Now that she’s in an enrichment program, she gets home later, so she can’t go to the store to be with him on his visiting days. Joint custody means equal time with each parent, but she misses two hours with him now that she’s in school on his days.
Feelings about New Changes
And, even when she’s with him, due to the expansion of the store, he’s probably preoccupied. She liked going to the store, doing her homework there to be around him, but her change in activity and his increased work are two changes no one predicted with the marital separation.
Understanding Your Child’s Development
Age ten is an unclear time in development. Lidia’s old enough to be industrious, have friends, care about others, but just how much loss and change can she tolerate even if some of the changes are positive? She’s earned the enrichment program. Dad’s earned his accomplishment.
But the marital separation that’s gone on for six months? Whose earned that? Whose paying the emotional price? Lydia. Big time.
Maybe Lydia’s sadness is too big for her at age ten. How can she focus on her achievements when she’s unclear how much time she’ll get with her father?
Step Five: Problem Solving
You realize how Lydia misses her father. You and her father don’t talk much since the separation. You’re so tense with each other, you text, and don’t even talk on the phone.
Opening the Dialogue
You go to Lydia’s room and find her listening to music lying on her bed. You know that talking, open dialogue, is needed, not just short spurts of questions and answers.
“Lydia, would you like me to lie by your side?” She snuggles up.
“I know that you’re struggling with not seeing Daddy that much. The enrichment program is great, but it means there’s no time to go to the store.”
“Even when I’m with daddy, he’s always quiet lately. Something’s wrong. I don’t know what I did. Well, I’m not sure.”
“The store is expanding. I think that’s on his mind. It’s not you at all.”
“Oh. I thought he was mad I wasn’t coming to the store.”
“Oh, no! He’s proud of you. He knows only a few kids get chosen for the enrichment program.”
“Really? He’s proud? He asks about it but I feel funny, like he thinks I chose school over him.”
“No. He’d never think that. Is that making it hard to enjoy the program?”
“Well. Kind of.”
“I promise. Really. He’s not at all upset with you.”
“Oh good. Now I can volunteer to make all the signs for the bake sale.”
“What fun. Great! Your fundraiser is so important.”
“It’s Not Easy Feeling Different”
“Mommy, there’s something else. I feel kind of different than my friends because you and Daddy aren’t living together. I haven’t had sleep-overs in months because I don’t want my friends to ask me why only you are in the house.”
“Did you know that Deirdre’s and Cora’s parents are separated? It’s been about eight months for each of their parents.”
“Oh and they’re the ones I want to sleep over! They’ve been going through this longer than me! Thanks for telling me.”
You open a photo album and look at pictures when she was a baby. You go on the computer and open a recent file of pictures and by chance see Dad when he was living home. This makes Lidia sad, but now she cries about what’s really hurting.
The Discovery of the Underlying Problems
The underlying problems for Lydia behind her sobbing after spilling the milk are several. Finally, you’re finding meaning behind that simple behavior. She was missing her father while feeling guilty for something she earned that took her away from him.
Tolerating that guilt was part of the problem. Thinking he was mad at her was another part.
Also, Lidia had started feeling different from her friends because of the separation. She was embarassed to bring her friends home to only find one parent living there. When she learned about two other friends whose parents were separated, she didn’t feel as different. She didn’t feel she had something to hide.
New Plans: Being a Resilient Parent
You decide with Lidia that you and Lidia’s father will make new plans to be flexible about when she spends time with each parent.
You realize you and your husband will just have to weather your hostilities and talk on the phone, not text, about the visiting arrangement.
Your time is more flexible than his, so you’ll plan around his work schedule and not hold to the separation agreement, so Lidia can see him more often.
Lydia’s parents need to be resilient, so Lidia can talk about the strains on her and not be the resilient one who’d become so anxious and sad.
For another example of Unlocking Parental Intelligence, click here.