Some of the major causes of stress in these turbulent times includes all the issues brought to us by the Covid virus, along with racism, violence and political unrest. For our children, their world has turned upside down, especially with regard to schools fluctuating from virtual to in school classes, sports and other extra curricular activities being postponed or cancelled and all the restrictions placed on kids and families that prevent them from going out and being in social situations.
Most of us have heard how important resilience is to combat the potential impact of trauma and other forms of toxic stress. Given how extra stressful these days are in part because of the many ways unpredictability has become our new norm, this is a good time to consider some specific strategies we can embrace to provide predictability whenever possible.
First, some important definitions and information about resilience.
According to the Therapist Uncensored website in an interview with Dr. Bruce Perry, resilience is defined as “the capacity to tolerate stressors and challenges and maintain function.” An important point about resilience: “Resilience is built; children are not born with it, and it can also be tapped out.”
Dr. Perry states that: “We can only become more resilient when stressed but in a certain pattern that needs three things: predictability, moderation, and controllability.” That means we and our children need some stress to help promote resiliency. In these days we don’t have to look very far to experience stress. The trick is having it not overwhelm us.
Google defines predictability as “behaving or occurring in a way that is expected.” When we know what to expect we are less fearful, and therefore less stressed, about what is coming next. Here is where parents and caregivers can intentionally bring predictability into their lives:
- Establish and keep routines that are predictable like the times each day for regular activities like eating, doing chores, attending school, going to bed. Posting charts that offer a kind of commitment to daily routines can be helpful.
- Maintain familiar sensory experiences. You could make the kinds of food that are predictably well-received by family members, use the same laundry detergent, burn the same types of candles, hug and give other forms of physical touch in familiar ways, play music everyone can sing or hum along to, allow children to repeatedly watch the same movies or read the same books where the story is predictable and therefore familiar and comforting.
- Invite children to tell you the things that they enjoy and associate with feeling safe and make these a predicable part of their lives.
We also need to include moderation and controllability to use the formula Dr. Perry shared. This means that children and all of us who are currently experiencing chronic, toxic stress need ways to reduce that stress, so it doesn’t overwhelm. We need to find creative ways to moderate it and/or control it. This is something most of us actually are doing, especially as we become more used to the changes in our lives. Because as humans we have the ability to somehow adapt to those things we cannot change (think Serenity prayer) we have adapted and found creative ways to deal with the many changes.
We have helped our children become accustomed to the new world while still dreaming of the time when we can go back to what we knew as normal. It will probably be a new normal. Or a different one. It will be helpful to bring with us an awareness of the importance of predictability, moderation and controllability along with this knowledge that some stress actually promotes resilience.
Invitation for Reflection:
- Consider the degrees to which there is tolerable stress in your life and the lives of those you love. If there is stress that is more overwhelming than tolerable, what can you do to reduce it?
- How can you bring more predictability into your life and the lives of those you care for?
- How can you incorporate moderation and controllability into your life and the lives of others?
- What do you need to help you achieve these goals that can promote resilience? Invite your family members to help bring predictability, moderation and control into all your lives.
Diane Wagenhals, Director Lakeside Global Institute