Building connection in children and youth: A bouncing and stretching article
Learn how you can help your child learn to bounce back and stretch their limits when setbacks happen. Seven easy ways to build resilience in kids.
Connection is one of the 7 C’s of resilience. Being connected to their family, friends and community gives children a sense of belonging and allows them to feel security to try new things. The goal of parents is to raise independent children that can take care of themselves and thrive in adulthood, but that isn’t done alone and being connected helps them achieve this goal. Children need to understand that they can be independent, but are also interdependent on others to help them through good times and bad times.
Michigan State University Extension has outlined four ways that helping children and youth build conection can offer support and reinforcement.
- Empathy: Empathy allows them to see the perspective of another person. By modeling empathy when your child is upset or having a rough time it helps them to feel that they are understood. It is important for both boys and girls to be encouraged to talk about their emotions, even the uncomfortable or messy ones so that they become more aware of how their emotions effect them.
- Listen: Becoming a good listener can help your child feel safe enough to talk about difficult situations they are experiencing. There are several tips to help parents really listen to their children:
- Don’t interrupt: Try to not jump in and solve the problem. Allow them to talk openly without jumping in and giving advice or opinions. Use statements like, “Tell me more…” or “You are doing a great job of describing what happened…” to keep the conversation going.
- Silence: Be OK with silence. It can be hard, but be OK with allowing them to think and gather their words or thoughts.
- Make time: Know when your child needs to talk and then make time to listen without interruptions.
- Body langauge matters: Be aware of your body language when you are listening to your child. Try to control your reactions so that they know you are listening and not judging which could cause them to get angry or upset. This can be hard when the topics are difficult, but this will show your child that you truly are listening to what they are saying.
- Quality and quatity: The time that you spend with your child is important, even doing day-to-day activities can be a time to listen. The more time that you spend with your child, the more opportunites there are for open conversations.
- Clarify: To show that you really are listening clarify what you heard them say, escpecially if you aren’t sure you got it! Use statements like, “This is what I heard. Did I understand you correctly?” or “When something like that happened to me, I felt like…Do you feel a little like that?” Once you understand how they feel, ask them how you can be most helpful. Sometimes it’s just listening that is needed, other times is might be advice. Ask them, “How are you thinking of handling this situation” to help them solve the problem.
- Use everyday moments: Routine moments like making dinner, doing laundry or rides in the car can be great places to connect with your child. Use the time for conversations and getting to know what’s happening at school and with friends. Consider creating family rituals such as eating at least one meal together as a family, reading bedtime stories, playing board games or other activities. For older children, establish a nightly check-in routine so you know when they are home safely before they go off to bed.
- Widen their support circle: Ensure that your child has more than one circle of friends. Consider friends they might have at school, in a faith community or from activities they are involved with. Strengthen connetions with cousins, neighbors, school, their community and even their environment.
For a deeper look at helping build connection in children and youth check out Building Resilience in Children and Teens by Dr. Kenneth Ginsberg. For more information and resources about developing resiliency in children and youth visit Fostering Resilience, the Search Institute and the Devereux Center for Resilient Children. For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the MSU Extension website. This is the fourth article in a series: Bouncing and stretching, Building competence in children and youth and Building confidence in children and youth: A bouncing and stretching article.