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How Parents Can Model Resilience During COVID For Teens, Tweens

April 15, 2021

Children learn from their parents long before they enter a classroom, and in a year like no other they understand resilience by watching and listening at home.

Dr. Laura Saunders, a child psychologist at the Institute of Living — part of the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network — said choosing the right words and demonstrating strength during the pandemic is how parents model resilience, especially for teens and tweens.

“We all face trauma, adversity and stress and a global pandemic is certainly something none of us ever faced before,” she said. “Building resilience is adapting to life-changing situations and emerging even stronger.”

Instead of calling the past year “lost” or focusing on what’s missing during months of remote learning and physical distancing, for example, parents should choose to emotionally buoy children through the challenge, Dr. Saunders said.

“It is hard to watch your child struggle, feel lonely and miss milestones through the pandemic, but they need our reassurance that things will settle back to normal and they will be OK,” she said.

Being aware of the emotional well-being of youth – who experienced a 31 percent increase in emergency room visits for mental health issues from April to October 2020 – is key as parents struggle for a footing, she continued.

“Middle and high school youth are developing into adults with the ability to adapt and be resilient. This is a great time for adults to demonstrate resilience that they can mimic,” Dr. Saunders said, defining resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, tragedy or significant sources of stress. “Resilience means bouncing back from difficulties and tragedies and, in many cases, profound emotional growth. Improving resilience takes time and intentionality.”

To develop the four core components of resilience — connection, wellness, healthy thinking and meaning — Dr. Saunders suggested these strategies:

  • Connection: Prioritize, build and strengthen relationships, including faith-based groups, volunteering and connecting with others even via Zoom.
  • Wellness: Take care of your body by adopting healthy eating, sleep and exercise habits. Avoid negative coping methods such as excessive eating, alcohol and other substances.
  • Healthy thinking: Embrace positive thoughts, keep things in perspective, accept change, maintain a hopeful and grateful outlook, and learn from your past.
  • Create meaning: Be proactive, develop realistic goals and accept even the smallest accomplishments. Ask yourself, “What is the one thing I can do today to help myself or my family?”

“With the right tools and supports in place, we all will not only make it through but emerge more confident and courageous to handle other challenges,” Dr. Saunders said, adding that anyone who feels overwhelmed should seek professional help.