A while back I was telling someone about some kids that had been through some pretty awful things, and her response was, "Kids are resilient though." I've heard that response before, but this time I knew too much. If kids are resilience, then at what point on their journey to adulthood do they loose it? They're not, it's just we don't actually get a chance to deal with it until those childhood issues make a mess of our adult life.
I let her know that I don't think they actually are, and she graciously allowed me to elaborate. If you work with kids, have kids, or even know kids who have been through a lot, I'd like to share some thoughts today that can help give the kids in your life a better tomorrow. There are some reasons we think kids are resilient. Some of those reasons are wishful thinking, they seem to be behaving better after a trauma, and they can do well in sports or school given all they've been through.
As an adult that has kids of his own, I would love to think my mistakes in life minimally impacted my kids' well-being. That's just not the case. Wishful thinking can stop adults from having those humbling conversations they need to have with their kids about those times when you had a bad day but took it out on them by being short, the divorce they endured and blame themselves for, or even the times you said you would do something, but had to change plans. All of these things can become almost passing events and kids are often left standing there wondering what the hell is going on in their life. As adults we don't need to beat ourselves up, but it's a good idea to sit down with kids and solicit their experience. It's good to give kids an outlet and even an apology if necessary. It's closure for them. Kid's do well being told how to act and carrying that out, so if they are going to have closure, it needs to come from the adult. What we go through as adults, kids internalize and tend to blame themselves. It's up to us to show them that we can make mistake and they don't need to own everything they experience at our hands.
Sometimes after an event like divorce, we look to a kid's behavior to gauge whether they are doing well or not. If we don't see anger or any behavioral concerns we will assume they made it through just fine. Once again, it's good to sit and discuss their experience with them. It validates their feelings and gives them a chance to be set free of blame. It also helps them understand the situation they are in much better, and lets them know they don't have to bury their feelings. Kids know what your expectations are of them. If you see angry outbursts, perhaps telling them to knock it off isn't the best approach. Get curious and ask if there is something bothering them. Kids are little people and not some naive being that just lets things go unnoticed. Yes, when they bury emotions and try to behave right, those buried emotions will manifest in their life in a myriad of ways. As the adult, don't belief that good behavior equals total and complete healing. Kids need to be engaged and validated. It's perfectly normal to hate the situation you're in, especially if you are the one feeling like life is out of your control and it hurts. Never think of good behavior as a sign that a kid has had closure. They will always try to act how you want them to, and even become a people pleaser in the process. Avoid that by giving them a voice.
If a kid has been through difficult circumstances, but we see what is know as "well adjusted" behavior we tend to move on thinking all is well. Good grades or excelling in sports can actually be a coping mechanism kids adopt to deal with what is happening inside the home. Sports keeps them out of the home longer and good grade keeps parents from giving extra attention. I am not saying to worry if your kid does well and loves sports, or even if they are honor roll students. These things are great qualities, but if your kid is using them to avoid a situation, it's best to talk about it. Chances are they can still excel at these things, but not need to deal with baggage from childhood as an adult. It's always up to the adult to take the initiative towards healing.
At the end of the day, I'm just trying to encourage those that have kids in their lives to take the time and be sure that kids are doing well. Be sure the kids have a voice and feel like their experience matters. That is all that really needs to happen if you want to help kids actually be resilient. Assuming they are, watching them conform to how we think they'll behave, or allowing them to cope are the ways we commonly assume they are resilient and leave them to do the work as adults. I encourage us all to do our part in helping kids develop habits to actually cope with event that happen to them in order to ensure that on their journey, they can actually know true resilience.