Northern Beaches Mums Group
Northern Beaches Mums Group

The mirror effect in building resilience

A lot of factors influence whether our child is able to respond with resilience to life?s challenges. As parents, we have the most significant influence and modelling resilient behaviour is one of the things we can do to build our child?s resilience.

It?s well known that children learn by imitating others ? not only does this help them learn but it helps them connect with others and it gives them the attention they so often desire, both positive and negative. Kids do what we do and not what we ask them to do. And it?s not just us they are imitating; it?s their friends, teachers and characters on TV. It?s something they are born to do.

They imitate what we do, what we say, our tone of voice and our body language. Children are not discerning about what they imitate ? they watch, listen, process, copy and put into practice anything, positive and negative, and irrespective of whether it?s useful to their ongoing development. Just because they observe a certain behaviour it doesn?t mean they will demonstrate it, but it will sink in at some level.

So what does this mean for us parents? In summary, it means that we need to develop our self-awareness and reflect upon the extent to which we model resilience to our kids. This might involve asking our partner or someone close to us for feedback. 

Developing self-awareness is important as it?s easy to unknowingly model non-resilient behaviour. In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown refers to this as ?minding the gap?. This means being aware of any differences between what you are asking your child to do and what you are doing, e.g. asking your child to stop using their iPad whilst checking Instagram on your iPhone.

Next, we need to become clear about what the behaviours are of a resilient child and intentionally demonstrate these to our child. We can also draw our child?s attention to the resilient behaviours that we demonstrate: ?Did you see how mum calmed herself down by taking some deep breaths??

Some specific examples include the following:

  1. Showing children how we manage our emotions. This can be as simple as expressing how we feel to our child: ?Mum is feeling frustrated that there are clothes all over the bathroom floor?. It might also include our child using tools and strategies for calming down alongside us: ?Dad is feeling angry that the traffic is so bad, let?s do some deep breathing together?.
  2. Modelling empathy ? to our child, but also to our partner, our babysitter, anyone who expresses something to us that is worthy of an empathetic response: ?I can see you are feeling nervous about the try-outs?.
  3. Showing your child how you solve problems, involving them where possible: ?I need to do a shop but the car has broken. What shall we do? Let?s start by brainstorming some options. Let?s evaluate these ? which one is the best and why? OK, let?s ask the neighbour if we can borrow their car.? And then after the problem has been solved: ?What do we think, was that a good solution??
  4. Showing your child that it?s OK to make mistakes and that these represent great opportunities for learning. ?I left my phone in the back of an Uber today and I can?t locate it. We all make mistakes, next time I?m going to make sure I check the back seat before I get out.?
  5. Showing that it?s important to keep going when things are tough. This can be modelled by talking about the tough times we are experiencing, and talking about how we are going to stick it out and persevere ? assuming this is a situation we should be persevering in.
  6. Self-care ? this is so important, particularly in today?s ?always on? culture. This involves showing ourselves compassion, being kind to ourselves, acknowledging that we?re not alone and practising mindfulness. It also involves eating healthily, sleeping enough, exercising and spending time with people we love. Had a rough day at work? Show your kids how you are relaxing in front of the fire with your favourite book.
  7. Showing an openness to and love of learning. There are plenty of ways in which we can do this, including sharing what we have learned today at the dinner table, reading a book, doing a course or learning a new recipe.
  8. Demonstrating an optimistic outlook. There are many ways we can do this, examples include sharing what we are grateful for with the family, focusing on solutions rather than problems and avoiding blaming ourselves or others.

There are a range of strategies we can employ to build our child?s resilience, modelling is one of these, albeit it is an important one. The examples shared above do not represent an exhaustive list; it?s also important to consider the age appropriateness of what we share when modelling, e.g. it might not be appropriate to share some of the tough times we might experience as an adult with a young child.

Many of today?s parents feel overwhelmed by the pressures of modern society. This is not intended to be a list of things that parents need to add to their ever increasing to do list. It is about stepping back, reflecting and deciding what we want to be intentional about when it comes to building our child?s resilience.

Susie is passionate about giving children the skills and coping strategies to strengthen their resilience. Susie has devoted the recent years of her career to the study of resilience and since setting the business up in 2017 has worked with 1000s of parents and children. Prior to this, Susie gained over 20 years’ experience in People & Culture roles in large corporate organisations in Sydney and London. Susie is also a mum to two young children.

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