Resilience-building Strategies: Now or Later?

Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.

– Mahatma Gandhi

Recently, I, along with three community mental health professionals, gave a presentation at a local conference. We talked about promoting resilience in kids and shared information based on our own areas of professional experience. During a question and answer time, an audience participant asked (paraphrased): What’s the difference between the skills you want kids to learn to build their resilience and the skills you learn when you’re actually depressed or anxious? Excellent question!

From my experiences studying, writing, and implementing resilience-building strategies and using evidence-based treatments with children experiencing problems, many of the principles are the same. I’ll use the Strong Kids curriculum to illustrate. This program was designed to help youth identify emotions and “thinking traps,” consider alternative ways to think about a situation, use positive or optimistic thinking, cope with stress, manage anger, set goals, and learn communication strategies useful for getting along with others. Most, if not all, of these techniques are useful in dealing with problems such as depression and anxiety. Although there are additional therapeutic options that can be very helpful (e.g., family therapy, parenting strategies, mindfulness, and exposure and response prevention treatment, among others) and working with a therapist will be more intensive, the skills mentioned from the Strong Kids curricula are often the foundation to effective treatment and better living. Learning resilience skills preventatively or before one feels overwhelmingly sad or anxious can have a protective effect or serve as a kind of inoculation. This doesn’t mean one won’t ever feel stressed, sad, worried, angry, or even go through hard times. However, if you have some reliable coping skills that you’ve already been practicing to build up your immune system, it will be much easier to deploy these strategies when times get tough. Doing so means there is a greater likelihood you will bounce back more quickly and with strength.

What coping skills do you or your children use (or want to use) more regularly and have come in handy when times get tough? Below is a list of some ideas that many people find helpful when used regularly and especially, during challenging situations or phases of life. If you or your child are engaged in therapy now, some of these may look familiar.

  • Choosing healthy options at meal or snack time
  • Exercising
  • Regular meditation, mindfulness, and/or prayer practice
  • Having fun, doing something enjoyable or relaxing
  • Spending time with friends
  • Taking deep breathes when angry or upset
  • Considering different ways to think about a situation
  • Talking about your thoughts and feelings with a trusted friend or family member
  • Saying to a child/friend “You sound sad/irritated/angry/disappointed, etc.” (validating feelings)
  • Making a plan for the day or setting a goal

Sometimes we don’t learn how to take care of ourselves until we are in a really uncomfortable place. Learning and using resilience skills is all about making a habit of engaging in these activities regularly. Like most people, I also need reminders to take care of myself! I see several items on that list that will work for me this week. I hope you find some too.