Building Resilient Kids By Building Strong Relationships

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Intentionally strengthening your relationship with your child is the best thing you can do to build resilience

Everyone is resilient. We often talk of resilience as a characteristic that an individual either has or does not have. “She’ll be ok; she’s resilient” or “I’m worried about him; he’s just not that resilient.” However, the truth is that resilience exists on a continuum, with every person possessing varying degrees of resilience in various situations and life circumstances.

Many factors go into determining how an individual will respond to any given situation. However, for children, the single strongest predictor of resilience is the presence of a relationship with at least one sensitively attuned, caring, and competent adult. Ideally, this adult is a parent; however, that is not always the case. Having a safe adult, who is emotionally available and able to help them process an adverse event, buffers the level of toxic stress experienced by a child in any given situation. An event that may be experienced as a tolerable stressor with the presence of a compassionate adult caregiver would likely be toxic for a child without that connection. Likewise, an event that could easily be a toxic stressor, can often be buffered by the presence of a supportive, loving relationship.

Through a relationship with a caring adult, a child learns the values of empathy and compassion. They learn what it is like to be cared for by another and how to care for others in return. A nurturing relationship with your child in infancy and early childhood will create neural pathways that impact the rest of your child’s life. A sensitive, attuned parent during the first year of life is the gift that keeps on giving. (Even though they won’t actually recognize that, because memories from the first year of life are stored subconsciously. So, don’t expect a big thank you or anything.)

At any time during the life span, resilience is strengthened in the context of close relationships. This means that the very best thing you can do to help your child develop a strong ability to bounce back from adversity is to spend time actively building and strengthening your relationship. By focusing on strengthening the parent-child relationship, you will help your child create neural pathways that are wired for successful relationships. You will teach your child that relationships are safe and that people can be trusted. Additionally, a securely attached parent-child relationship also creates pathways in your child’s brain for positive self-esteem and confidence. Through the relationship, your child learns that he or she has the ability to be successful in relationships with others, creating a sense of confidence that will extend to other relationships as well.

You can also use your relationship as a means to strengthen other qualities of resilience in your child. For example, you can use your relationship to instill in your child a strong sense of self-efficacy, an important factor in resilience. Self-efficacy is the belief that an individual has the ability to make changes and reach goals in their own life. Without this belief, people often develop what is commonly called a “victim mentality.” This is the difference between taking steps toward reaching a goal or giving up because you feel that no matter what you do, it won’t make a difference anyways. Self-efficacy is critical to creating a sense that one has control over their own life and, as such, is an important piece of the resilience puzzle.

One of the very best investments of your time that you can make is on your relationship with your child. Are you interested in learning more about how to build resilience in your child by strengthening your relationship? I would be honored if you would sign up to receive my free mini-course, “5 Steps to Creating Connection.” In this 5-part series, you will receive daily assignments and PDF worksheets to help you start taking concrete action toward an intentional relationship with your little one. Sign up here to subscribe and then please join our community on Facebook and let us know how it’s going!

Free 5 part mini-course "Creating Connection with Your Child" at

With Gratitude, A Gift From Me to You

Win a FREE copy of Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential and EndangeredWith the Thanksgiving season upon us, I have been reflecting upon those things for which I am most thankful.  My goal for Reflecting Relationships is simple: I want to help more children and families.  To accomplish that goal I am bottling up the work I do every day by creating an 8-week Trauma-Informed Parenting course, which will launch for the first time on March 7, 2017.  My intention for the course is that the combination of my knowledge, skills, and practical strategies for parents of children who have experienced trauma will help families heal and build resilience.

With that said, I am truly thankful that you have decided to join me on this journey.  I am so grateful for every person who chooses to take a moment of their day to read my words, either here or on Facebook.  I am thankful for every person who chooses to follow me on Pinterest.  I am incredibly grateful for every person who decides to become a part of my community and receive my email newsletter.  Seriously, those MailChimp notifications are the best. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

As a small token of my gratitude, I have decided to gift one lucky reader one of my favorite books, “Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered,” by Maia Szalavitz and Dr. Bruce D. Perry.  The contest is open to everyone who subscribes to my email newsletter.  The link to enter will be in the Monday, December 12 newsletter and the winner will be announced on Monday, December 19.  Not a subscriber yet?  No problem! Just enter your info here and not only will you be eligible for the contest, you will also receive my free mini-course “5 Steps to Creating Connection” to help you begin strengthening your relationship with your child today.

Once again, thanks for taking the time today to be here and to read this post.  I truly appreciate you.

Enter to Win a Free Copy of Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered at

Enter to Win a FREE copy of Born for Love at


Why Focusing on Strengths Strengthens Resilience

I’m willing to bet that you are quite the expert on your own flaws. Yes? In fact, I would even venture so far as to say that it’s highly likely you are your own worst critic. Am I right? It’s safe to say that most of us spend far more time thinking about what we are doing wrong and how to fix than congratulating ourselves for what we are doing right.

It’s true for almost all of us. Here’s the thing though: it’s also true for our children. Often as parents, we unintentionally reinforce that. It is our job to raise our children to become responsible, functional adults. So, with the best of intentions, we frequently point out what they’re doing wrong or what could be better. It’s our job. And yet, when this is the way that we approach our job of raising our little ones, we tend to create a self-perpetuating cycle of shame. Our children then learn to focus on their own flaws and forget to celebrate their strengths. They learn to minimize their accomplishments because something could always, always be “better.”

As parents, when we chose to focus intentionally and relentlessly on what is going well, magic happens. Kids already know their flaws. They already know what they are doing wrong. (Almost all of the time. Promise.) And they don’t always see what they are doing right with the same intensity. They notice what we, as their parents, pay attention to about them and it matters more than we even know.

So, here’s my challenge to you: geniusquote
Step 1: Make a list of your child’s best qualities. What make him unique? What do you completely and totally enjoy about her?
Step 2: Find every possible opportunity to tell your child about those things. Did she just check on a friend who fell down? You can say, “Hey, I noticed that you went and checked on your friend to make sure she was ok. That was really caring of you. You are such a thoughtful friend.” Notice how your child reacts to these words as she takes them in. Does her face light up? Does she smile shyly?

Now, here’s where the magic really happens. What you notice and pay attention to tends to grow. When you show your child his strengths, he will begin to see them to and to take pride in them. He will be inspired to use them more. Focusing on what is going well builds resilience. It teaches children that there are so many wonderful things about them. Do mistakes happen? Absolutely. And we have the power to teach our children how to respond to them by learning from them and moving forward instead of dwelling on them. To truly, effectively teach this, we also have to model it in our own lives.

So, here’s part two of my challenge to you:
Step 1: Make a list of your own best qualities and strengths. What makes you the incredible, awesome person that you are?
Step 2: Find every opportunity to tell yourself about those things. Tricky, yes. I know that this is so challenging because you’re already trained to be so hard on yourself. Worth it? Also, yes.

When you commit to focusing on the positives – for both yourself and your child – you will begin to notice shifts, subtle at first, but they will get bigger over time. We all have so many strengths and flaws – it’s what makes us human. What will you choose to focus your energy on?


Focusing on child strengths builds resilience

Teaching Belly Breathing for Emotional Regulation

As humans, when we are in a highly emotional state such as anger or sadness, the emotional part of our brain, made up of the brain stem and limbic system, takes over. When this happens, our rational brain, or prefrontal cortex, disengages temporarily. This is what makes it so difficult to rationalize with someone who is super angry.  As the body reacts to a highly emotionally charged stimuli, stress hormones take over sending the body into survival mode – what you have probably heard of as fight, flight, or freeze.  Keep in mind, the emotional brain is very sensitive and reacts to anything that is perceived to be a threat, whether it is truly a threat or not.

In a healthy adult brain, the rational brain is able to re-engage fairly quickly, allowing the person to cool down and begin to think more logically about the next action steps. However, the rational brain is not mature until approximately the mid-late 20’s. When young children tantrum, it’s important to keep in mind that while the emotional brain is fully mature around age 3, the rational brain is still in the very early stages of development.

Emotional regulation, belly breathing, deep breathing, children, mindfulness

Belly breathing helps children learn emotional regulation skills by helping them access executive functioning.

Teaching children to engage and use their executive functioning skills is something that needs to be done intentionally, during happy times, to help them master emotional regulation during challenging times. One of the absolute best ways to do this is to teach your kiddos how to take big, deep breaths into their belly. Belly breathing reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol and also increases serotonin levels. Big belly breaths increase blood flow and circulation to the rational brain and help create a pause between an upsetting event and the reaction by allowing the rational brain to be a part of the decision making process. I suggest introducing belly breathing during a calm, pleasant, one-on-one time.  Practice with your child every chance you get.  Belly breathing is a skill that needs to be practiced frequently when we don’t need it to ensure that we are able to access it readily when we do need it.

There are many ways to introduce belly breathing to your child and lots of techniques that make it fun and engaging.  A parent introduced me to this video and I have used it quite a bit lately to introduce little ones to the idea of belly breathing. It’s fun, engaging, and catchy, and let’s be honest, as a parent, you can never have enough Elmo in your life, right? 😉