Supporting children to develop mental resilience and emotional wellbeing
Having an unhappy child at home can be an unbearably difficult experience. For parents, the ability to juggle demands at work/home and dealing with a distressed child can be agonisingly tough. Battling the feelings and beliefs that we need to be perfect at home and at work, and then drowning in decisions about what to do for the best which can lead to overcompensating in unhelpful ways.
Our behaviour, as parents matters
Hyperactive, highly anxious ‘over parenting’, trying to make things ok and take away their offspring’s sadness is understandable. Many parents have been there, but all it does is create a cycle of worry between parent and child, and possibly cause them to retreat further.
As our children grow, particularly through adolescence, there are major changes happening in the brain. The brain is complex, made up of billions of cells and neurons, all connected in some way. If you think about the complexity of the brain, alongside our children moving through puberty and adjusting to physical and environmental changes through adolescence – it helps parents to recognise that the way children react to things is usually a normal part of their growth, and while it might feel unsettling as a parent, learning how to help them is key.
The way we respond as parents enables helpful (or unhelpful) neural pathways to be laid down. Imagine the following 2 scenarios.
Sali is 12 years old and has been invited to join a community art club. She doesn’t know anyone and begins to get a bit anxious about walking through the door on the first night. Her dad feels worried because he doesn’t like her to feel anxious and because he’s worried, he talks a lot (it’s what he does when he’s anxious about things that really matter). He bombards Sali with questions about how she’s feeling and what she is worried about, which in turn makes Sali feel even more anxious, so much so that she says she doesn’t want to go. Her dad feels relieved and tells Sali he can do art at home with her in the comfort of their own home.
Amelia is 12 years old and has been invited to join a community art club. She doesn’t know anyone and begins to get a bit anxious about walking through the door on the first night. Her mum recognises that her anxiety is normal, she isn’t that good at meeting new people either. She asks Amelia what she loves about art and drawing, and how it makes her feel when she’s deep in being creative. She reminds her of the favourite picture that she drew for her and says how proud of her she is for taking up such a great hobby. Amelia’s mum admits that she can get nervous when meeting people for the first time, and explains that she has learnt that taking some long deep breaths in and out, as she counts to 10 helps settle and calm her down and then tells herself, “you can do this, you won’t be the only person that is new, I am going to make some great new friends, the pain is worth the gain”. Amelia agrees that this might be helpful, and says she will give it a go. They arrange to spend some quality time together after the club as a reward for Amelia taking the plunge.
As you read these two scenarios, think about pathways and patterns being laid down in
Sali and Amelia’s brains. One has the potential to develop a new way of thinking about meeting new people, offers a positive learning experience, and most importantly the end result of Amelia benefiting from the social experience of the new club. The other means Sali has given up and less likely to try new things in future. How the adults respond and support is vital for future
The behaviour we model as parents, is vitally important to how children learn to adjust to the physical, social and environmental changes they experience as they grow up.
It’s hardly surprising that parents struggle on how to parent if their child is withdrawn, sad or angry. It’s not like most of us had great training. Many of us can remember all too vividly struggling as teenagers to parents who seemed themselves woefully under prepared for the vital act of parenting.
Why did we develop Raise Resilience?
It is for these reasons (and a few others) that we developed Bounce Forward’s Raise Resilience programme for parents. Helping parents to support their children to grow and develop with the mental resilience they need to not only face the setbacks that inevitably will come, but also be able to thrive in life.
What is Raise Resilience?
Raise Resilience, aims to cultivate psychological resilience in parents and their children, with a significant focus on emotion regulation – managing and responding to emotional experiences effectively. It’s a series of six sessions that takes parents through the science in a practical and engaging way.
The programme is developed from sound concepts and theories derived from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Positive Psychology and Explanatory Style Theory. Developed in 2015, the programme has been independently evaluated several times, by University of Bedford and University of Bristol with positive outcomes.
Building on previous research, a further pilot study by the wonderful Chloe Lowry has shown similar positive outcomes. This latest study provides a preliminary quantitative assessment of Raise Resilience. It explored changes in parents’ own emotion regulation, the emotion support they provide to their children, and their children’s psychosocial functioning, six weeks after completing the programme.
At the center of Raise Resilience is the psychology of Beck’s (1997) Cognitive Behavioural Model. The model sets out the link between what we think and how we feel and behave. Each time we encounter a situation, something happens, we interpret the situation. It’s a like our internal radio station that tells us the reasons why something has happened, or what might happen next. These thoughts that we have cause us to feel and react to it.
If you think about this model and the opportunity it offers to slow down a situation
to assess it; separating out the facts (the A in the model), from the beliefs
(Bs) I have about what caused it, from the consequences (how I feel and what I
do), you can see it helps create self-awareness about what is going on, in that
moment, ‘for me’.
Beliefs can cause us to give up – as shown in the 2 scenarios above, Amelia joins the club
whereas Sali doesn’t.
Raise Resilience takes this simple yet effective model and extends it using concepts
from Positive Psychology and Explanatory Style Theory, to build the skills
shown below, that are both useful for parents themselves and helpful to develop
in their children.
Bounce Forward believes that these eight skills for raising psychologically fit children are refreshingly simple, can become second nature once mastered and can deliver life-changing opportunities to connect in ways that are helpful to you and them.
back to the research
Back to Chloe’s research that collected data from parents, using validated measurement tools, before the Raise Resilience course and 12 weeks after the course had finished. The key findings are as follows:
- An increase in parents’ own use of cognitive reappraisal – this was the biggest effect
- An increase in parents encouraging their children to use healthy emotion regulation strategies
- Improved socioemotional functioning for their children.
These findings precisely depict the aims of Raise Resilience. Helping parents to slow down their own thoughts and feelings to be able to more accurately assess what is actually going on before encouraging their children, by using their knowledge of the skills taught on the course, to try healthy ways to deal with their unhelpful feelings.
Perhaps most importantly, and again something that comes through on all the research to date, the course has the largest impact on the children who need it most. Chloe told us:
During the analysis I noticed that the initial scores for children’s psychosocial difficulties clustered into two groups: one group who rarely experienced difficulties and another group who experienced a lot of difficulties. I ran statistical tests to see whether there were significant changes in how these two groups’ scores changed after the course. Those whose scores were low at the start didn’t change much. However, there was a big improvement in scores amongst those with a lot of difficulties. The difference was highly significant and would have been significant even if we’d used stricter statistical standards. This suggests that the course may be working for the children most in need of help.
Chloe is quick to point out that we can’t be sure this was a result of the course because there was no control group in this study, and the reason why further research is needed.
The full findings and report can be found here. The findings of this study pave the way for further exploration into the programme as a potentially transformative tool for fostering family emotional wellbeing.
Raise Resilience was developed to help parents to navigate their own and their children’s emotions more healthily and effectively. A preventative, proactive approach to build knowledge and skills so parents feel equipped to:
- Understand themselves better, their reactions to situations and how the impact they can have.
- Help their children when they are upset or worried to understand, regulate, and deal with their emotions.
- Recognise when their children are jumping to conclusions, catastrophising about the worst possible outcome, and being able to help them slow their thoughts down and check that they are not missing important information.
- Keep lines of communication open with their teenagers, continue to teach them skills that will help them not only overcome setbacks, but make the most of opportunities.
Since its inception 1000s of parents have completed the course and 99.8% of them tell us the course was useful personally, will be helpful for their children, will improve things at home and would recommend it to other parents.
If you want to support your children to develop their mental resilience and emotional well-being, then take part in Raise Resilience to help them learn to grow from setbacks and bounce forward.
If you are a researcher or research grant provider that can help us with a fuller study, please get in touch.