How to Build and Maintain a Child’s Resilience

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Morgan Every day, families that have a child diagnosed with cancer must face the challenges associated with illness and treatment. Since March 2020, they’ve had the added layers of the COVID-19 pandemic: social distancing, virtual learning, cancellation of plans and many other uncertainties. All of these factors can make the ability to adapt and recover feel like a mental marathon. Building resilience — best described as the ability to recover and adapt in difficult situations — can help counter the exhaustion.

The Child Life team at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Cancer Center works to provide children and caregivers with the tools to promote resilience during their time at the hospital. These skills can be developed through education preparation, and therapeutic play, all of which help to promote positive coping skills. Once discharged, however, how can a family support and maintain this resilience outside of the hospital environment?

Research indicates that many factors contribute to a person’s resilience. One of the most important factors for a child is having a stable, committed relationship with at least one caregiver or adult. Resilience is not a trait a person simply acquires. Resilience requires practice and strengthening throughout a lifetime. Here are some strategies to assist your child in building resilience both in and out of the hospital environment.

Tips to build resilience at home

Exploring feelings: Reassure your child that they are allowed to experience all feelings, even the negative ones. For example, is your child feeling frustrated with online schooling or disappointed because they can’t see friends? Explain to your child that those feelings are normal. When given permission to feel upset, angry, frustrated and so on, your child will later be able to recognize and label feelings. As a result, your child will be able to recall ways in which they were able to cope with their feelings, which will assist in building skills for self-regulation.

Choices: Provide your child with choices when navigating difficult situations. This will empower them by giving a sense of control over the outcome. When angry, would your child prefer to take a walk around the block? Or have some alone time? When given choices, your child will begin to learn how to problem-solve independently.

Goal setting: Help your child make and set attainable goals. During this COVID-19 pandemic, is there time to learn a new skill, such as riding a bike or finishing a puzzle? If encouraged and validated throughout reaching goals, your child will feel empowered to continue to set goals and work toward them.

Not only can these strategies be used at home, but they can also be utilized within the hospital setting.

Tips to build resilience at the hospital

Advocating: Encourage your child to advocate for themself. Can you involve your child in medical conversations? Can you encourage your child to ask the nurse for things? When your child becomes a self-advocate, a sense of control will be gained over the environment.

Brainstorming: Help your child brainstorm ways to stay distracted while hospitalized. Is your child feeling well enough for a craft, reading a book or watching a movie? Brainstorming is another form of problem-solving and critical thinking.

Encouragement: Tell your child when you notice things they’ve accomplished. Has your child practiced a new way to cope with a procedure? Praise for hard work will encourage your child to continue practicing these skills.

These tips not only build resilience but they act as tools to build long-term positive coping throughout medical treatment and stressful life events. Please feel free to reach out to your child life specialist for additional ways to help support your child through hospitalization.


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