Topping up your own basket of needs
Ms Völker-Munro, to make sure our readers have a clear definition, let’s start with a question: what is resilience?
The simplest translation really would be “the power to resist”. On the one hand, resilience means maintaining mental health, but on the other, it also means getting back on your feet after a crisis.
Why does resilience appear to be much more of a topic nowadays?
We have had to deal with a lot of crises recently. At the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, parents were under tremendous strain on several levels. Lockdown, working from home and home-based education all frequently required them to react quickly and to be flexible, to make new plans over and over again and to deal with fears and differences of opinion. The war in Ukraine and climate change also entail a great deal of uncertainty and financial strain. We notice this in ourselves, but our children notice it too, of course, because as parents, we are under different pressure and we want to give our children strength for these times when we don’t know how things are going to turn out.
Lots of questions were asked at the MINIHAUS event involving small-scale conflicts in which children have a tantrum, for example, and throw building bricks – how can our reaction to this kind of situation affect the development of resilience?
At first glance, moments like this have nothing to do with resilience. To answer this question, you need to take a closer look. In my talk, I mentioned the seven components of resilience which resilient people have naturally. One of them was controlling one’s emotions. There is one thing a child throwing building bricks cannot do yet: control his or her emotions. But children still have a lot of time to learn this and even if we don’t always react correctly, they will still learn it. However, we can still support children in controlling their emotions from a very young age by accompanying them with an attitude of resilience. A great many stressful routine situations can accordingly become “opportunities for growth” from a resilience point of view.
The term “filming” was often heard - reflecting and describing a situation to a child as if it were a film. Would that be a recommended method in this situation?
I would not advise “filming” in the case of a temper tantrum like the one described above. In my talk, we mentioned the traffic lights in the brain which are already completely red in this situation; the child won’t even hear my words, because a reptile brain doesn’t understand words. I recommend filming in a “green” or “amber” moment; by “filming”, I mean describing the situation as neutrally as possible – as if you were describing a film plot.
“Filming” has two particularly positive effects. In “green” moments, the child understands connections better. If, for example, the child gives three of his or her gummy bears to Max, I could “film” this by saying: “You gave away three of your gummy bears – look how happy you’ve made him.” By describing how a specific action has led to a specific result, I can support reinforcement of the child’s self-efficacy and also boost the likelihood that the child will share something again in the future. “Filming” in “amber” moments helps me, as the child is more likely to listen to me. This is because the alternative to “filming” is usually criticism and by criticizing the child, I will immediately send him or her towards the red zone.
It makes a big difference how I say things to my child. “Tidy your room” may well be a clear request, but it isn’t always the right thing. How else can I phrase this?
With small children in particular, our requests often aren’t picked up at all. Our children often don’t even hear us calling out “Tidy your room!” from the kitchen. The first step is to go up to your children, establish eye contact and then say “Now it’s time to tidy up”.
If I meet a child in the situation he or she is currently involved in, it is more likely that the child will cooperate. He or she is probably doing something much nicer than tidying up right now. Can I immerse myself in the child’s world for just a moment? I could say: “It’s not easy to stop playing. You’re really involved in your game at the moment, aren’t you?” By taking this approach, I’m reaching out to my counterpart, making it easier to guide the child towards the next step: “Now it’s time to tidy up”. It then helps to give the child an option: “Would you prefer to tidy up the building bricks or the books first?” or “Shall we put on a song and see if we can finish before it’s over?”.
Does a child learn resilience in lots of places or only at home?
Research shows that resilience is built up primarily through positive family communication, time spent with parents and involvement in education. However, positive relationships with other key people in educational establishments such as schools or nurseries also build resilience in children. As life continues, friendships and the advice and leisure activities available in the community also play a part.
You have to work on resilience all your life – are there people who find it easier?
There are characteristics which make it easier for us to become resilient. People also refer to a certain “resilience gene” which makes it easier for us to be happy. Nevertheless, it is ultimately environmental effects which determine whether or not we become resilient. The bond with parents plays an extremely important part in the development of resilience.
There are many adults today who do not feel “resilient” – can you learn resilience even when you are older?
Yes, you can learn resilience your whole life. But it would be wrong to suggest that it is equally easy for everyone. A significant part of resilience involves a good relationship with oneself and with other people, as well as a confident and solution-focused attitude. Depending on the tools an adult has in his or her kit, he or she may also need support from a therapist to get the maximum benefit from resilience training.
Will it affect my child if I myself am not “resilient”?
We frequently reach our limits with small children, in particular. We often have too little time to top up our own basket of needs – lack of sleep does not help and a lack of “undisturbed couple time” is just one of many other issues. We are trying to fit everything in whilst having to deal with external challenges as well. It is normal not to feel resilient during these times. Happily, easier times are around the corner, and in the meantime, it may help to keep reflecting on magical moments, consciously to keep practising particular resilience skills and also to accept private and public offers of support.
The interview with Nora Völker-Munro was part of a MINIHAUS München parent information evening for all our nurseries entitled “Resilient children – we make children strong!”. A total of around 100 parents participated online and in-person in this event, which was organized by Feinschliff – The Training Academy. Find out more about Nora Völker-Munro’s work at www.resilienisch.com.