By Victoria Bagnall, Co Founder, Connections in Mind
Most children will see their friends nearly every day of the week. However, with schools closed and access to outdoor play facilities and social spaces restricted, reduced contact with friends can be quite upsetting and stressful for some children. Maintaining these friendships will help your child develop resilience by learning how to manage periods of difficult change, both now and as a skill that will be carried into later life.
What do we mean by resilience?
When we talk about resilience we mean a persons’ ability to bounce back and recover from stress, challenges and difficult life events. Remember, resilience is not something that we either have or don’t; it is a skill that needs to be built and nurtured within your child.
Why is resilience important?
Research has shown that children who are more resilient are happier, less stressed and are better equipped to handle life’s curveballs*. They are also more likely to take healthy risks as they don’t fear falling short of expectations**. Building resilience will help your child learn how to manage their emotions when faced with adversity so that they can continue working towards their goals. In terms of executive functions resilience is a mixture of goal directed persistence and flexibility.
Why is maintaining friendships key to building resilience?
Like all of us, children need to spend quality time with the important people in their lives. Staying connected will give them the opportunities they need to talk to a friend about a concern or something that they may be finding difficult to adjust to. This will provide them with the emotional support necessary for developing coping strategies that can help them overcome the issue. Maintaining these friendships will help them build resilience by better equipping them to cope with stress and uncertainty and can help them recover from periods of difficult change quicker***. The more quality social support they can draw upon from friends, the more flexible and resilient they can be in stressful situations. Essentially, these friendships will provide the support system that your child needs during these times of social and educational adjustment.
As a parent, how can you help your child stay connected?
Make it routine
With the daily juggling of home-schooling and working from home, it can be easy for time to slip away. As a parent, it is important that you set enough time aside in your children’s schedule so that they can regularly connect with friends. Including it as part of their daily routine will make them feel safe, less stressed and create a calmer household.
Set up virtual playdates
There are plenty of apps and services available such as FaceTime, Skype or Zoom that can make it easy for your child to stay connected whilst remaining physically distant. You could organise a virtual playdate where they cook or watch a film together. You could even create a classroom-like environment by letting them video call their friends whilst they are doing their school work. They could also play some games across a video platform, games like Battleships or Hangman work brilliantly. Better yet, these types of online social interactions can actually support their executive function development. For example, it can help them practice turn-taking and inhibiting responses, and help them learn how to maintain focus in a distraction-rich environment.
Write a letter…and get creative!
It may be a bit retro but in today’s society, the opportunity for children to learn the mechanics of writing and sending letters is fairly limited. Particularly for younger children, this is the perfect opportunity to help them develop their handwriting skills. You could also get creative by sending photos, drawings and including small care packages for friends or relatives. Just imagine the excitement when they receive a letter back in the mail addressed to them!
Write a story
Use email to encourage your child to start writing. Get them to write the first chapter and then send to one of their friends to write the next chapter or section. Not only will this help your child develop planning and prioritisation, but will link the components of executive functions (working memory, cognitive flexibility) with the components of imagination, such as symbolic thought and imaginary companions. Plus, you will have a wonderful story memory to share when your children are reunited in person again.
But my child hates doing anything I suggest. What can I do in this situation?
It is natural and normal for teenagers to reject the suggestions of their parents – it is part of what has made human societies so adaptable over the years as teenagers reject the status quo and opt to do something different. Working with a trained professional in these circumstances can be invaluable. They can offer a safe space to discuss how your child is feeling and work on a practical plan to boost EFs according to your child’s goals.
If a coach was helping a child with this particular issue they would find a good time to discuss how they were feeling about being in self-isolation and then set some goals around milestones they would like to achieve. Like: I would like to chat to my favourite Aunty once a week on Zoom. They would then brainstorm and put together a workable bespoke plan to do this: teach Aunty Kate to use Zoom, and then schedule a convenient time, and have a topic they can discuss so that the chat is more meaningful than just a chit chat. The coach can then check back in to tweak the plan over time.
If you would like to know more about executive function coaching and how it can help your children, you, or even yourself as a parent then book a free discovery call with our Client Services Manager today.
* Resilience in development: The importance of early childhood. (Masten & Gewirtz, 2006)
**Resilience giving children the skills to bounce back. (Hall, Pearson & Reaching, 2003)
***Best friends and better coping: Facilitating psychological resilience through boys’ and girls’ closest friendships. (Graber, Turner & Madill, 2016)