Resilient parents – how do we support parents to bounce back after life’s big stuff?

Resilience.  We hear a lot about resilience in children and about the idea of being able to raise children who bounce back after tough times.  These days, when I ask parents what they want for their children, they are less likely to say that they want them to have a good job, marry well or “stay out of trouble”. They are more likely to say that they want their child to be more resilient – to rebound from disappointments, stresses and traumas, to get along with others, and to respect themselves.

Obviously, parenting is an important part of raising a resilient child.  To be proactive, work as a team, be consistent, and use the most positive forms of discipline is more likely to breed resilience in children.  These things are good to know….but….

 It never ceases to amaze me how some children bounce back from the most traumatic and unhealthy circumstances – even some who are mistreated by their parents!

In the late 1980s, researchers have looked at children who’ve had tough times and bounced back.  In fact, they had become healthy parents themselves.  Those maltreated children fared better or recovered more successfully when they had a positive relationship with a competent adult, were good learners and problem-solvers, were engaging to other people, and had areas of competence and perceived efficacy.  Being valued by society, having intelligence, social skills, strong community/religious affiliations, positive school experiences, and  participation in therapy all helped.

So, if children can be assisted to bounce back after tough times, even the really tough times, what about parents?  How well do parents cope with the everyday rigor of life stress or how well do they bounce back from traumatic events?

We’ve all had tough days when we know we may not be parenting the way we normally do.  It is also likely that we’ve all had bigger events that “just a tough day”.  How have these big events in your life affected you and did they change the way you parented at all, for awhile or even forever?

Researchers at Melbourne’s RMIT have started to get their heads together to explore the ideas around what it might take for a parent to bounce back after a traumatic situation or stressful time and how  a parent can continue to be a competent parent when times are tough.

The researchers at RMIT, have reviewed the literature to date and have decided that the key to resilient parenting lies across four main areas.

  • Psychological well being – Parents who take care of their own mental health are best placed to bounce back from tough times. While this doesn’t mean that you leave your children alone at home because you need to have more good times with your friends, taking steps to seek treatment for any mental health concerns you experience and knowing your own pattern of coping and what you need to do in tough times is important.  Poor mental health can significantly impair parenting ability.
  • It is thought that parental self efficacy is central to being a resilient parent – Self efficacy is the confidence we have in our ability to do something. If we doubt our abilities, it may be that we have a harder times dealing with stressors.  Believing that you are a competent parent appears linked to positive outcomes for families.
  • Family functioning – Psychologists have long known the importance of trying to re-establish a routine in the lives of people who have been affected by trauma. Resilient parents provide their children with everyday activities and routines.  It seems that when we know what is likely to happen next (“It’s Monday, I have swimming lessons after school – I’ll need to pack my swimming gear”), we are more likely to settle back down into being able to do what we need to do.
  • Social connectedness – Just like young infants need to have a healthy attachment to a safe, warm adult – connectedness plays a protective role in times of crisis for grown-ups, too. We all benefit from being able to access practical and emotional support from friends and extended family.  It looks like adults who have good quality social connections are more resilient.

At this stage, we know that resilient parents take care of themselves so that they can continue to provide routine and structure for their family as well as stay connected to friends and extended family.

While it has might been said that it takes a village to raise a child, it seems that it takes a village to support parents to raise a child.

Parents who take care of their mental health, keep family routines and structure going, have faith in their ability, and faith that they will be supported, look to be those who bounce back from life’s hassles, setbacks and traumas.

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