Resilience is the ability to face a challenge and come out the other side with some measure of growth and success, and there has never been a more important time for parents to help their kids build it.
As a physician who studies early brain development, I've found one surprising factor that contributes to increased resilience at a young age: creating "nurturing routines."
Studies show that having structure and familiar rituals teaches kids how to constructively manage themselves and their environment.
When children do things in a similar way and at a similar time, over and over, they know what to expect. This predictability creates feelings of comfort and safety.
As a result, they are better equipped to navigate the unexpected, which is a cornerstone of resiliency. The baseline is always: "I'm going to be okay."
Think of a nurturing routine as a security blanket or worn-out stuffed animal that provides a calm, loving environment in where the child feels comfortable exploring their feelings during a setback or challenge.
And as they begin to do parts of their routine with less supervision, they will grow more independent and confident.
Your child may have a morning routine that encourages healthy behaviors, like brushing their teeth and talking about their plan for the day, or a midday veggie snack that promotes a nutritious diet.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when creating these routines:
1. Encourage dialogue during the routine.
Children internalize parents' communication style as their own "private speech," so calm, loving prompts and questions throughout the day support emotional-regulation skills.
Let's say they have a nighttime routine that involves brushing their teeth and picking out pajamas. Encourage dialogue by saying, "Look at you, in your comfy clothes and ready to brush your teeth! First, we wet the toothbrush. What's next?"
2. Explain the "why" behind a routine.
Explaining the why behind a routine helps kids learn what's expected of them and feel the positive impact of completing the routine.
For example: "We had so much fun building with our blocks, but it's time to clean up. The big blocks go in the blue bucket. Where do the little blocks go?"
After they answer, you can respond with: "That's right! Let's finish up so we can eat a snack to stay energized the rest of the day."
This simple activity helps them practice language skills, taking turns, talking and understanding the importance behind certain actions.
3. Be consistent.
Remember that resiliency doesn't develop overnight. Children need regular reminders of what these skills look like, so start early and be consistent.
Long or difficult days can make it hard to stick to a routine. Parenting requires flexibility. Sometimes a comforting statement can make up for a missed routine: "I'm sorry we didn't get to read a bedtime story together. But I promise I'll make time tomorrow."
Lastly, praise your child when they follow a routine without help so they get into the habit of doing it consistently: "Thanks for folding the blankets this morning. Good remembering!"
Dr. Dana Suskind is a professor of surgery and pediatrics at the University of Chicago Medical Center and founder and co-director of the TMW Center for Early Learning + Public Health at the University of Chicago. She is the author of "Parent Nation: Unlocking Every Child's Potential, Fulfilling Society's Promise." Follow her on Twitter @DrDanaSuskind.
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