Christine Kutzner M.Ed., RCC - Counselling Services

Parenting Matters Printable PDF version

Volume 2, April 2008

I hope everyone is enjoying the arrival of Spring! I have been busy organizing closets and working in the garden, in anticipation of the warmer weather!

I have some exciting news! I will be presenting at the Gleneagles Community Centre, Wednesday, April 16th from 7-9pm, on Intentional Parenting: Finding the balance between ‘hanging on’ & ‘letting go’ of your school age child”. Hope to see you on April 16th! Please RSVP your attendance to Melanie Clark@ 604-925-7222. There is no charge for this presentation.

In addition, I have now taken a year’s leave of absence from my position at mental health! It’s quite a step and I can honestly say, life is busy! I have been out there meeting parents and community counsellors to find ways of bringing parents together for interesting topics and discussions. This month’s article is from a presentation I recently gave at the Happy Corner Preschool. I hope you enjoy it!

Building Your Child’s Resiliency: The Key to Success

What is Resiliency?

Resiliency is both a process and an outcome. The most common definition has come to mean when an individual has the ability to overcome life’s obstacles and continue on with his/her development! As the person grows older, for example, their resilience is supported by their capacity to use family, community and cultural ways to access resources for their health and well being. Resilience, therefore, is an ability to solve problems, which ability stems from a belief in one’s self. It is an ability to live life in the face of uncertainty, with empathy for others, while having goals and aspirations and finding the balance between independence and dependence.

So how does RESILIENCY become activated? To start, rely on your attachment relationship with your child and your skill in practicing INTENTIONAL PARENTING, which together help grow a resilient child.

Attachment behaviour represents first and foremost SAFETY (both physically and psychologically) to your child. Out of this safety zone develops a relationship that is loving, soothing, comforting AND MUTUAL. The child must attach to their caregiver just as much as the parent must to attach to the child. This co-relationship lays the foundation for parents to maintain their role as a mentor, guide and director of their child’s life. When we as individuals do not feel safe, our brains freeze and shut down and we go into the “fright or flight” mode. This is when our brains become restricted. When individuals feel safe, our brain is flexible, allowing for more ideas to flow through. Without the attachment process in place, children do not venture out and explore their world. In essence, their world becomes limiting.

Intentional Parenting is you the parent attuning to your child’s needs in the moment, and throughout their developmental growth. Intentional Parenting is a way of being in the presence of your child, including your eye contact, your tone and welcoming mannerisms, and a healthy touch or a hug to lets your child know that you are there for them at all ages and stages of their development.

Intentional Parenting is called upon when a child displays feelings and more so behaviours that let the parent know “something is not right”. The child may signal that he/she is not happy, or is angry or is so frustrated that he is falling apart. Intentional Parenting is asking you the parent to adjust your parenting style and tune in to address what you perceive your child’s need to be. It may be as simple as they are over tired or hungry, or it may be they feel left out, or angry that a friend broke their favourite gadget or that your child was excluded from a birthday party.

Although no parent wants to see their child feel sad or feel pain, it is in this very moment where the opportunity for resiliency is developed. Resiliency is born out of our own vulnerability!

What is Vulnerability?

Vulnerability is allowing oneself to feel their pain. To help our children accept being vulnerable, they need to rely on their secure parent/child relationship (attachment) in order to address the painful feelings. These feelings are:

  • ANGER
  • FRUSTRATION
  • SADNESS/LOSS

Tears in young children let us know that they are stuck! When there is no way out, the child realizes that something isn’t working. It is the feeling you get when you have come to a dead end!

When was the last time you cried about something that didn’t go well in your life? Maybe you wanted someone to hug you or reach their hand to you? Most of us feel better when we are supported by another in times of stress or sadness. SO, I am suggesting to “be with” your child and their feelings of frustration and loss. Resist the urge to fix the situation right away. The first step is to let your child scream, cry or pout in telling you how bad, sad, mad, or angry they feel.

To be completely vulnerable is to come face to face with that which is out of our control! This is why as parents, we try to make our children feel better, because as adults we want to feel in control.

When children do not feel their own vulnerability, they usually do not cry, and are protecting themselves from feeling the sadness and the disappointment. They avoid feeling vulnerable at the cost of not developing resilience. They give others the impression that they are “tough” or stubborn, however they are full of fear. What will this outcome be? Possibly a child whose good at showing the world his anger and aggression.

Our society guards against our children feeling sad. Parents want to help and society tells us our children should be happy all the time. We praise our kids or tell them to be brave and not cry. We immediately want to help solve their problems or find a distraction to make them feel better. For example, we promise to buy our kids a treat so they can forget about feeling left out of the birthday party. The more you seize the moment of despair and help your child go through the 3 feeling states, the stronger their resilience will be for tolerating a failing mark on an exam, not winning the talent contest, not being picked for the gold hockey team, embarrassing themselves at a company dinner party, etc.

If a Child Refuses to Go Through the Feelings, Then What Next?

One or two things could be happening. First, the parent has moved too quickly out of the anger – take your cues from your child. They will let you know where they’re at. Remember, your child might have a build-up of anger from many sources, so stay with your child and interject on occasion reasons why he might be angry!  For example:

  • your friend hurt you
  • you feel left out
  • nothing seems to be working out for you
  • you don’t feel you’re being treated fairly
  • you’re worrying about [something]
  • you feel I love Suzy more than you

Keep your empathic statements simple and your child will fill in the details.

Second, it may be a sign that your attachment relationship isn’t strong enough for your child to truly feel vulnerable. For instance, if your child says that he can’t tell you, or says “I don’t know”, there is an issue of trust.  He may worry that he will be punished for doing or saying something wrong. Keep working on the attachment needs and be Intentionalin your parenting. Give your relationship the time it deserves for trust and understanding to build.

What Happens If Our Children Are Not Resilient or Adaptive to Their Environment?

  1. They are not able to learn from trial & error. “When something doesn’t work ... try try again!” Well, these kids don’t, so school learning becomes difficult and frustrating.
  2. They are not able to benefit from their mistakes, or from having their failures pointed out. If you won’t look at your mistakes and feel sad or disappointed about them, how can change happen? We need to help them develop SELF EMPATHY.
  3. They are not able to learn from consequences. Does taking a privilege away make your child feel sad or disappointed, and if not is the lesson learned? If not, how will the lesson sink in?
  4. They repeat the same mistakes over and over. Instead of telling your child to think before you act, try to get at the feeling after they act in order to learn the lesson. Their brain isn’t registering the need to stop and think.
  5. These children are prone to aggression. Stuck in frustration and anger, a child is more likely to erupt! Aggression means the child has not yet come to terms with things he/she cannot change.

Christine Kutzner, M.Ed. is a Registered Clinical Counsellor providing services to children, parents and families in North and West Vancouver. To inquire, contact Christine.

Copyright Christine Kutzner, 2008. All rights reserved.


Christine provides counselling services to children, parents, and
families in Vancouver, North Vancouver, and West Vancouver.

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