Mindfulness and the Path to Resilience and Growth
I’m often asked whether being strength-based means we can never have negative emotions or feel down when bad things are happening. Of course not. Being strength based doesn’t mean we ignore bad times or falsely keep things positive for our children. We need to be real. Mindfulness is a great way to help us see reality clearly, be present to the negative stuff but also see the strengths so we can build up our resilience.
Highly resilient people experience negative feelings but still hold on to positive feelings. Resilience is strongest when, during great adversity, we can hold negative and positive emotions in tandem and make subtle distinctions between each emotion—something psychologists call emotional complexity.
No matter how good of a parent you are, your kids will face problems, have weaknesses, and be confronted with challenges. Your child can build resilience in the face of challenge only if they don't shrink away from it.
Mindfulness wedded to strengths helps your child meet challenges because they know they can sit with all of their feelings in the present moment, including discomfort, and call on their strengths to bounce back.
Everyday issues like problems at school and with peers can create a lot of emotional pain for children, but these can be addressed productively through emotional coaching based on mindfulness and strengths.
One simple strategy is to get into the habit of regularly asking your child how they feel. It’s a great way to get feelings on the table and to help your child decide what to do about them by calling on his strengths. You’re helping your child in the moment and helping them develop the emotional complexity they need to grow their strengths in good times and bad.
You may be surprised by how receptive your kids are to mindfulness. It means you’re tuning in to them—and that makes them feel good!
Using Mindfulness to Help Your Child Work on Weakness
We all have things we’re not good at. Mindfulness can help our kids deal with what comes hard for them. Suppose your child has problems with math. How would a mindful approach help? Here’s how it might unfold:
1. Be present (bare attention).
Help your child tune in to the situation, their distressing emotions, and the story they're telling themselves. How do they feel when they think about doing their math homework, open the textbook, hit a problem they can’t figure out (frustration, anger, anxiety, helplessness)? What’s the story they're telling themselves about it (I’m stupid, I’ll never get this, I’m just bad at this)? You might ask, “What are the thoughts you’re thinking when you sit down to do this? What voices are going on in your head?” Help them bring those thoughts to the surface and be patient if it takes them a while to articulate their negative thinking. Be there for them without judgment.
Help your child replace negative thoughts with strength-based ones by pointing out distortions in their thinking and strengths they could bring to bear. For example:
“Do you think those thoughts are helpful? Do you think they’re really true?”
“Those are interesting thoughts, because I see you’re actually not that way when you _____ [give examples of things the child does well and feels great about].
“Remember that math assignment where you did better than expected? That was amazing. What was different about your thinking that time?”
Talk about strengths the child has that they could bring to the situation and that would change their self-talk. For example: "Math isn’t my ability, but I know I’m persistent. I can be goal focused. I’m organized. I can stick to the task. I’m curious and I can learn new things. I can ask for help or tutoring. I know I’ll feel good when I master this. There are lots of other things I am good at, like English class, baseball, making videos, taking cars apart.”
3. Choose actions.
With Strength-Based Parenting, you can get creative with your child about how to draw on their strengths to better handle the situation, like the one above. For example, suggest that your child apply thinking from a strength angle:
“English is a strong subject for you and you love it. Let’s look at some of the ways you think when you’re working on an English assignment. Let’s do your English homework tonight and I’ll set your phone to beep every 10 minutes over the next hour. Each time it beeps, stop and check in with how you were feeling and what thoughts were going through your head. Write down your thoughts and feelings on this notepad beside you. At the end of the hour, review your notes. List your feelings and thoughts in one column and add a second column where you rate whether the thoughts and feelings were helpful or harmful to your homework.”
The next night, take things a step further and try this:
“Let’s try an experiment. For the next 30 minutes, do your math the way you normally do. We’ll set the phone to beep at you every 10 minutes so you can record your thoughts and feelings. Then we’ll rate them as helpful or harmful. For the next 30 minutes after that, do your math, but try to substitute the more helpful thoughts and feelings that you have when you do your English homework. When the beeper goes off, stop and notice what you were thinking and feeling. Then look at your list from when you did your English homework and choose a more helpful thought to substitute.”
Other experiments keyed to the child’s strengths:
Agree to set a timer to work for X amount of time, or a goal to complete X number of problems. Then take a 15-minute break to do some free-floating mind activity your child really loves. Or let the child set a longer-term goal to enjoy an agreed-upon special treat if they get a certain score on a test or exam (strength of goal-setting).
Do the difficult math homework first (when your child is feeling fresh and most able to draw on their strength of persistence).
Help your child have compassion for themself: “This is hard. Just stick it out for 10 minutes, and then you can have a break and a snack. I’m proud of you for sticking this out. You’ve got persistence and you’re gaining clarity about why this challenges you and how your negative thinking is making things worse. This is not as easy for you as other things, but you can get through this.”
Initially, you’ll need to walk your children through each step to help them name their feelings and suggest ideas for reframing their thinking and choosing actions from a strength perspective. You may have to stay close at first, sitting with the child as a comforting presence or checking in to see how things are going. You’ll need to ask, “What strength do you have that can help you here?” But as children get clearer about their strengths, they’ll gradually internalize the mindfulness process, and you’ll need to coach them only if they feel stuck.
Have Lea Speak at Your Next Event...
As a University researcher, Lea Waters, PhD, turns her science into strength-based strategies to help organizations, educators and parents around the world build resilience in their employees and children, helping them to thrive. Lea’s keynotes and talks offer her audience a unique blend of science, practice and humor.
To find out more about working with Lea or to book Lea for your next event, please contact us.
Photo credits (in order of appearance): Benjamin Manley, Jon Flobrant, Jordan Whitt, Chris Liverani, Daniel Chekalov, and Jeremy Avery on Unsplash.
Tags: #StrengthSwitch, #SBP, #StrengthBasedParenting, #PositiveEducation, #ParentingAdvice, #PositiveDetective, #VisibleWellbeing, #Strengths, #Resilience, #PositivePsychology, #Wellbeing, #School, #EducationAuthor, #EducationSpeaker, #ParentingAuthor, #ParentingSpeaker, #Families, #Psychology, #Character, #CharacterStrengths, #MentalHealth, #Parenting, #Parent, #Children, #Child, #Optimism, #Education, #Teaching, #Teacher, #Mindfulness, #Meditation, #Attention
Copyright © 2018 Lea Waters. All rights reserved.