How to be a resilient family
Five features of a resilient family and the most helpful habits you can cultivate to boost family resilience during tough times.
1. Positive mindset
Resilient families tend to have a can-do attitude which promotes optimism and hopefulness and avoids catastrophic thinking. That means believing in better times ahead even if you can’t see them. In a resilient family, crises and difficult circumstances are seen as challenges that the family will find a way to support each other through somehow or other.
Helpful habits: Parents can encourage a positive mindset by teaching optimism, modelling a positive interpretation of difficult events in targeted praise and through regular family gratitude exercises. Find the positives, no matter how small!
|A Gratitude Jar
Decorate an empty jar with your children and put it somewhere everyone can see. Every day, spend a few moments together thinking of three good things from your day that you are grateful for. It can be tiny things – a smile, a cloud, a cup of tea – and write each one on a slip of paper and post it into the jar. The jar will quickly fill up. If anyone is feeling low, read through the jar and smile.
2. Effective communication
A resilient family communicates well – both in terms of information-sharing and emotions. Good communication habits build relationships, increase connectedness and enable you to face challenges together. In a resilient family, members trust that things won’t be hidden from them and don’t feel threatened by their own or other family members’ emotions. That means having mechanisms for expressing our own feelings in appropriate ways and being able to stay calm and be supportive when others have difficult emotions.
Helpful habits: Parents can practise the skill of empathetic listening and learn to stay calm during children’s discomfort so we are not triggered into adding emotional fuel to the fire. Don’t shy away from difficult conversations with your children. Give children concrete age-appropriate explanations that balance honesty and reassurance (for example, see Talking to children about the cost of living crisis).
3. Work as a team
To be a resilient family you need to function as a good team in which everyone feels connected and valued. Members of a resilient family feel like other family members care about them and notice when they are struggling. At their best, families have a unique team spirit which creates a sense of belonging and unity and shared goals.
Helpful habits: Having clear rules and roles can be very helpful in a team but make sure you divide the workload fairly and avoid over-parenting and doing everything for your children. Expecting children to make a contribution boosts their self-esteem which is essential for building their individual resilience. Show appreciation for each other through small gestures of kindness and spend time together doing things you enjoy.
Set aside 30 minutes a week to talk through what’s going on as a family and to problem-solve and make plans. Have some simple rules for the discussion (eg around interrupting), value all contributions and allow everyone to use the platform to raise issues. (See tips for successful family meetings here.)
4. Solve problems collaboratively
A resilient family tends to focus on constructive solutions and engages everyone in problem-solving. Solving problems collaboratively equips you better as a family to face future challenges as well as helping you overcome present stressors.
Helpful habits: Teach your children problem-solving skills by involving them in family decisions. These might be small decisions (like what to have for dinner), happy decisions (like where to go on holiday) or decisions about challenges (like how to save money). Coach siblings to resolve conflict collaboratively.
5. Positive rituals and traditions
When times are tough, our usual activities can get disrupted. However, family rituals and traditions provide a sense of connectedness, security and predictability – all which are essential in stressful times. Resilient families find ways to continue positive rituals and traditions despite challenges by prioritising these and adapting them where needed. Traditions and rituals help provide children with a sense of belonging and build up a bank of happy memories that can carry them through difficult moments.
Helpful habits: If circumstances get in the way of an important family tradition, find a way to take the essence of that tradition (the element that made it important) and carry it into a new manifestation. Talk about memories and hopes and make plans for the future. Develop small everyday rituals – such as how you say good morning or good night – that can be carried on and adapted to provide continuity and security despite any disruptions.