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  • Writer's pictureAviva Nirenberg

Building Resilience in our children and ourselves: thriving during covid-19 and any life challenge

What is resilience? Resilience is defined as being able to bounce back from stress, challenge, tragedy, trauma or adversity. It is a critical life skill to not just surviving life's challenges but growing and thriving through them. The good news is that resilience can be taught.

All children and adults are capable of amazing things. The potential for greatness lies in all of us. Life's journey, though isn't always smooth. There are potholes, rocks, and forks in the road. The ability to confront these bumps and not only survive but grow and flourish is the secret to an incredible life. Gifting our kids with this skill is the biggest present we can give them as parents or caretakers.

We can’t change whether we will face challenges along the way. What we can do is build the skills, so these challenges are never able to break us. We can build resilience.

The ongoing stress we've been all experiencing over the last few months from the global pandemic has been difficult, but it's been especially hard on children and adults with ADHD. In the best of times individuals with ADHD can struggle to manage strong feelings

and can get stuck in feelings of sadness, fear, loneliness, anger, or frustration. Now, we all may be trying to manage feelings of fear, pain, uncertainty, or loss. This is compounded by someone with ADHD's trouble shifting gears or with calming themselves.

Another relevant factor is the disruption of routines, disconnection from friends, cancelling/postponement of future events, along with fear or uncertainty about the future.

ADHD brains function either in the “now” or “not now.” So, it’s very hard to imagine a better future with the current situation.

In addition, more than 1/3 of those with ADHD have co-existing anxiety or depression, which can exacerbate feelings of fear and sadness. That being said, it's especially important for parents and caretakers to distinguish between normal stress behavior and when to seek professional help. Normal stress behavior can include: irritability, moodiness, clingy behavior and difficulty sleeping. In younger children, it's possible to see some regression with previously mastered skills or outgrown behaviors like thumb sucking or potty accidents. More yelling, fighting, and hitting are also very common normal stress responses.

More serious symptoms that warrant professional intervention include excessive worry or sadness, crying, withdrawal, apathy, irritability, weight gain or loss, or persistent sleep problems.

Building resilience in your children starts with you. How would you rate your stress level on a scale of 1-10? If it's high, begin by managing your own stress and anxiety. Anxiety is contagious but so is calm. Whatever energy we're radiating our children and family will absorb. So, make your own self-care a top priority. Take a bubble bath, call a friend, read a book, paint your nails or whatever recharges your batteries. Have realistic expectations of yourself and your children and have self-compassion. You’re doing your best in a challenging situation.

A healthy life style is the crucial foundation to combat life's challenges. First, a healthy diet has a tremendous impact on our ability to fight stress.

A few basic tips…

  1. Water Stay well hydrated. Relieving stress can be as simple as drinking more water. Our body needs water to function at its best.

  2. Complex Carbohydrates All carbs prompt the brain to make more serotonin, the feel-good chemical. It's best to eat complex carbs, which take longer to digest. Good choices include whole-grain breads, pastas, and breakfast cereals.

  3. Try to include healthy fats found in fish, nuts, seeds and avocado.

  4. Include fruits and vegetables, especially those high in vitamin C, which lower levels of stress hormones.

  5. Limit white sugar and simple carbohydrates that cause a spike in blood sugar followed by a rapid drop and release of stress hormones.

Next, exercise calms our brain and bodies in times of stress by reducing the levels of the body's stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol and simultaneously stimulating the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators. So, you feel less stressed and more happy.

Any activity that gets you and your kids moving is great, even better if you can make it fun.

Some ideas include: throwing a frisbee, kicking a ball, walking the dog, put on music and dance, bike riding, take a hike, jump rope, hula hoop, garden, or do an exercise video together.

A third basic lifestyle component to fighting stress is quality sleep. Sleep calms our brain and bodies in times of stress. Getting a good night’s sleep is an essential ingredient for calm. When we don’t sleep enough at night, our body boosts its levels of stress hormones. Then, the next day when we feel tired, our bodies continue to produce cortisol, the stress hormone. Even worse, stress makes it harder to fall asleep the following night, creating a vicious cycle.

Creating regular structure and routine for your family gives them ability to be more resilient. When life throws us an unexpected curveball, the predictability of our established routines can be a stabilizing force amidst the chaos. The predictability and structure of routines lessens overwhelm and eases transitions. Make the schedule together if your child is old enough and post it so they can see it. Try to have relatively consistent wake up and bed times, meal times, school time, play time both active play and creative play etc. Allow for flexibility, though, this is real life, not the military.

Another key ingredient for resilience is communication. Younger children may express themselves through play, drawing and other creative activities. Talk to your kids regularly and

validate their feelings and concerns. Answer any questions they may have in an age appropriate way. Then, check-in regularly and let them know you're available to discuss their worries and questions.

Bring resilience to life by sharing personal stories from your personal or family history can be especially powerful.

For example, “Remember the hurricane when the tree fell on the house…” “Remember when the pipes burst and we had a flood…” or“I’m disappointed I didn’t get that job but there’ll be other opportunities.” Stories of challenges you overcame are empowering and build resilience and hope. Believe in your kids ability to cope and they will too.

Additionally, the importance of relationships and connections beyond the nuclear family can not be underestimated. Research tells us that it's not independence that gets us through hardship but the reliable presence of supportive relationships. It could be friends, cousins, grandparents, a teacher, coach, or neighbor. Social connections help us to respond better to stress, be more optimistic, and happy. Further, having strong ties to a community group, social, religious, or otherwise will also strengthen your ability to bounce back from life's difficulties.

Another valuable tool in your stress busting arsenal is mindfulness. Modeling and actively teaching your family mindfulness can keep you anchored in the present moment. Mindfulness calms stress and anxiety by focusing our 5 senses and thoughts on right now. Then, we're not rehashing what happened or anxiously worrying about the future. There are a multitude of fun and engaging ways to learn mindfulness, model it, and share it with your family. Check out or for some super ideas.

Not surprisingly, doing something you enjoy melts away stress. Ask yourself, what activities do you and your family enjoy doing without prompting? Uncover and cultivate you and your children's natural skills and talents. Developing mastery in a particular area will build self-esteem and fuel resilience. Creative play and fun are healthy for children and adults of all ages. Play naturally creates "feel good" hormones that foster our resilience.

Finally, nurture optimism and hope by searching for and creating awareness of the positive in any situation.

If you have a child who tends to look at the glass as being half empty, show them a different view. Ask yourself and your children, "What's the opportunity here? What are 3 gifts in this situation?"This teaches children and adults to focus on what they have or can gain rather than on what they’ve “lost.” In ten years, this pandemic will be (hopefully) but a memory, but the love, laughter, learning, growth, and togetherness it fostered will be ours and our children's forever.

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