Children, the little people of our future, are the ones we often aim to protect and strive to keep safe. It may be near impossible to shield them from harm in this life. Children face challenges early in childhood with basic needs, familial conflict, substance use within the household, intergenerational trauma, bullying, grief, parental separation, etc. We often overlook the level of tolerance children develop from a young age to withstand intense life stressors. Resilience in minors is the ability to cope with a distressing event or crisis, adapt to change, recover from setbacks, and return to a stable internal baseline mentally and emotionally. Children consistently demonstrate resilience throughout their developmental stages, most recently during the pandemic.
There are four significant resilience groups, physical, mental, emotional, and social. Physical resilience is how their physical body recovers from illness/injury. For minors, this can look like a child breaking their nose during a sports practice and sitting out a few games while they heal. Mental resilience is their ability to adapt to change and uncertainty, which can look like a child not knowing when they’ll return to play, although their nose will recover in 4 weeks. Emotional resilience is regulation skills to manage internal distress. It can look like a child experiencing anger and helplessness that their team has lost three consecutive games while they’ve been out on injury and learning to journal their feelings and thoughts to cope. Finally, social resilience is the ability of groups to recover from distressing events together via community support and problem-solving. Social resilience may look like this child seeking team support during a losing streak, and they initiate team bonding to feel closer, more connected, and cohesive during a stressful period.
Resilience in minors was challenged through the pandemic as children went into isolation for several months. Quarantine reinforced avoidant behaviors due to the fear of contracting and spreading illness. Children also began using avoidance to self-isolate, evade conflict, and mitigate social anxieties, perpetuating existing mental health conditions and opening the door to new emotional challenges. Dr. Lisa Damour, a clinical psychologist, shared her perspective on how children navigated the pandemic and found comfort in their daily quarantine routines, making it easier to avoid social events as the world opened back up and children transitioned back to school in person. Minors described this time as mentally taxing, emotionally draining, dark, discouraging, depressing, and anxiety-inducing. The accessibility to resources was troubling as the world was unsure how to navigate an unprecedented catastrophic event in real-time. As we approach year 3 of the initial start to lock down, we reflect on the pandemic’s short- and long-term effects as our youth continue to find footing within their interpersonal lives and better their mental health. Resilience in minors is re-emerging as community supports such as parents, teachers, coaches, and mental health professionals come together to support a generation who experienced this level of universal trauma.
Resilience within youth minorities serves another level of disparity as they suffer from institutionalized racism. During the pandemic, access to mental health services was limited for children, specifically within low-income, marginalized areas. Not only were they less likely to receive care, but when they did, their care was of lower quality than those of their white peers. During this uncertain time regarding the world being closed, the Black Lives Matter movement prompted activism within the youth, which had both positive and negative effects. Children experienced increased emotions of fear and anger simultaneously compounded by the severity of the pandemic. While these events contributed to the internal distress of our youth during a vulnerable time, there is evidence to suggest the activism led to increased motivation in youth to address injustices they faced in the future and build resilience within themselves.
As our youth learns to re-adjust to normalcy, they may experience a new realm of hardships. The pressure to perform well in school, engage in extracurriculars, balance household chores, meet parental expectations, and maintain a social life can be overwhelming. Guidance from supportive role models will help aid our youth toward resilience and success. Carving out a few minutes of quality time with your young child, friend, or cousin is an intentional way to help reinforce resilience. Developed by a woman named Codie Sanchez, the “TEAM formula” is an effective, ten-minute approach to remaining connected within our interpersonal relationships. I find this approach to be a beautiful way to reconnect with our youth and build their resilience consistently:
T – Touch
Sit with your child, embrace their presence, and offer a 30-second hug. Physical touch is a love language and a direct way to ensure we meet their physical needs. If they’re distant or upset, Sanchez recommends jokingly touching fingertips like ET.
E – Education
The power of information is one of the most valuable concepts in this world. Share a new fact or something interesting you saw, and prompt them to share something new they learned in school or with their friends. Open dialogue offers an opportunity to challenge their knowledge while giving attention to their interests.
A – Appreciation
Voice your appreciation for your child, a compliment, an affirmation; this is a direct way to build an emotional connection and share your feelings. Expressing gratitude may lead to an emotionally vulnerable moment that allows our youth to feel safe and secure within supportive relationships. Bonus points for creativity and new points of appreciation each check-in.
M – Metrics
Interactive feedback time. Use this as an opportunity to check in with any areas of concern. Whether it’s a test they failed or you noticed someone picking on them after school. Usually, when we’re upset, we immediately address it out of urgency or an emotional reaction. Use this check-in strategically by writing down your thoughts and bringing them to this time. Emotions may be more leveled, and your child may have processed more, making them ready to share. Keep in mind that interactive feedback goes both ways! Welcome feedback from your child on anything they’d like to share with you, anything you can do better or differently to support their needs.
While minors are often exposed to challenges within their developmental stages, it’s our responsibility to help promote their resilience whenever possible. Sometimes their struggles are too intense to face alone, and weekly check-ins are not always enough. If you notice the following changes in your child, it may be helpful to see professional support; failing classes, changes in personality, consistent outbursts of anger, self-harm, dread about the future, isolation, anxiety symptoms, a traumatic event, etc. As a universal community support system, we can offer the resources and tools to help our youth reach their highest potential while allowing their resilience to shine.