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Building Resiliency in Children

Stephen Parkinson (psychotherapist/music therapist) and I met with a small group of children and their parents this week in a music therapy session.

As I watched the children engaging with the music and one little girl dancing in the session I was in awe of their resiliency.  These children live with such compromised health conditions.  Their parents are vigilant in their care and protection as they live with the challenge of the many barriers that they have to work with every day.

What a delight it was to hear them laughing and watching them trying out the different instruments.  One little boy, who needs to be held and supported to be part of this group, had his eyes light up and a smile on his face with his favourite song was being sung – a gorgeous moment.

As I reflect on the importance of resiliency for children who live with serious health conditions I am reminded of Edith Grotbergs work (1995).

She believes that, resilience is important because it is the human capacity to face, overcome and be strengthened by or even transformed by the adversities of life.

Parents have such an important role to play in strengthening resiliency in their children.  As I observed the parents with their children in the session gently assisting them to engage and try out new things whilst maintaining vigilance in making sure they were safe I was aware of the positive difference this made to each child.

I have included a section from Edith Grotbergs book; A Guide to promoting resiliency in children: strengthening the human spirit.  To the parents who read this, I hope you find resonance with what she has written.

When they promote resilience in the child during the first three years of life, parents and care givers:

  • provide unconditional love and express love both physically and verbally by holding, rocking, and stroking and by using soothing words to calm, comfort, and encourage the child to calm himself or herself;
  • enforce rules for children aged two and three, and use removal of privileges and other forms of discipline that do not belittle, harm, or reject the child;
  • model behaviour that communicates confidence, optimism, and good results for children two and three years old;
  • praise the two and three year old child for accomplishments such as toilet training, calming self, talking, or making something;
  • encourage the two or three year old child to try things and do things on his or her own with minimal adult help;
  • when language is developing, acknowledge and label the child’s feelings and so encourage the child to recognize and express his or her own feelings and to recognize some feelings in others (for example: sad, glad, sorry, happy, mad);
  • also use developing language to reinforce aspects of resilience to help the child face adversity: for example, `I know you can do it’ encourages autonomy and reinforces a child’s faith in his or her own problem-solving skills; `I’m here’ comforts and reminds the child of the trusting relationships that can be relied on;
  • at around three years of age, prepare the child for unpleasant or adverse situations (gradually, if possible) by talking about them, reading books, play acting, etc.;
  • are aware of their own and the child’s temperaments so that they can gauge how quickly or slowly to introduce changes, how much pushing, encouragement, etc. to give.
  • They also:
  • balance the freedom to explore with safe supports;
  • offer explanations and reconciliation along with rules and discipline (when language is developing);
  • give the child comfort and encouragement in stressful situations;
  • provide a stable environment for the very young child, but some novelty for the two and three year old new experiences, people, and places;
  • Change and modify the mix of freedom and safety, explanations and discipline, etc. for the two and three year old child as the child’s reactions suggest.

As I read the above, I found it to be a good reminder of the impact we have on children in their younger years.  As parents and adults caring for children in their early years we have some responsibility in how their resiliency develops.

True Colours is committed to supporting families who have children with serious health issues.  We continually look for opportunities that will strengthen and build resiliency within families.

Music therapy is a way of bringing parents together to gain support from each other, while at the same time creating some lightness and fun for the children.  Music can be used as the medium to provide opportunities for parents and children to bond in a way that is outside of the illness that creates such barriers on a day-to-day basis.

Children love playing music, listening to it, creating it and it can help with relaxation and healing.  We will continue to offer these opportunities as a way of developing resiliency, not only for the children, but also for the parents.

It takes a community to raise a child.


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