3 Tips for Raising Resilient Gender Creative Kids!
This is a guest post from Rebecca Hodgson
Resilience has become a buzzword in modern popular psychology. Individual levels of resilience vary from person to person. Resilience is our ability to adapt or bounce back from adversity such as traumatic-stress. The good news is, the brain has tremendous plasticity. We can take measurable steps to build resilience in ourselves and the children we care for. Here are three tips for raising resilient gender creative kids!
Relationships: Help children cultivate supportive, loving, accepting relationships within their families and/or with community members such as teachers, coaches, and neighbors. People who have strong connections with others are more resistant to stress and overcome adversity. The injection of love, trust, role models, positive feedback/encouragement into a child’s life will help them build the internal resource of resilience. Knowing there is somebody to rely on increases a child's sense of safety and belonging in the world. A child’s community is the team of people they can call upon.
Gender creative kids will benefit from having healthy role models they can see themselves reflected in. Check to see if your city has a Gender Creative Playgroup, drag queen story hour, a pride parade, or local meetups/support groups that can expand the child’s community. If you live in a rural area, look for gender creative media (books, film, art, online materials and support groups) or expand a child's community by making a shrine to our gender creative (s)heroes (Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Frida Kahlo, etc.).
Mirror Self-Soothing / Self-Regulation: How do you manage stress in front of the children you spend time with? When you get upset or lose your patience in front of children, try to turn it into a teaching opportunity by telling or showing them what you’re doing to integrate your experience and find your calm again*. Daniel Siegel suggests in his book, “The Whole-Brain Child” that parents or caregivers can make “survive goals” and “thrive goals” regarding these teaching moments. The survive goal is for damage control. It’s permission to not concern yourself with teaching moments if it’s all you can do to not lose it. We are imperfect and that’s okay. Like they say on airplanes, secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. Thrive goals are for the moments when you’re feeling resilient yourself and you can access internal resources to turn a challenging moment into a teaching opportunity. (See Daniel Seigel’s book for age appropriate tips).
Engage in age appropriate dialogue regarding how to tolerate difficult emotions and help children track the various stages of dysregulation and regulation (I feel worried / I feel happy). Knowing what it feels like to feel calm is just as important as processing the difficult experiences. It’s a bit like having a map to get back “home” internally. Upsets are normal and temporary. Make sure children know that you accept and love them while they are upset. If there is corresponding unfavorable behavior, be sure to let the child know that it’s their behavior you don’t accept, but that you’re there to help them with their big feelings. The Collaborative Problem Solving®️ (CPS) approach teaches that kids lack the skill, not the will to do better. Mirroring self-soothing will add to a child's resilience skill set. Resilience grows when children become self-aware, accept themselves, learn how to ride out difficult emotions, re-establish self-control, and regain equilibrium.
*This does not mean we become an open book with the children around us. Children take things personally because developmentally they’re not capable of seeing the big picture. If we’re encountering our own internal bias or we have concerns about their gender creativity, this is something we should seek adult support on.
Set Achievable Goals: Help children build self-confidence and motivation by helping them to define achievable goals. (Read up on S.M.A.R.T. goals). When children face challenges that they are able to overcome, this builds resilience. If we regularly give them tasks that we know they’re unlikely to succeed at, this undermines their confidence and stresses their nervous systems. Life is full of obstacles. Build their self esteem and resilience by helping them break down goals into achievable parts and helping them identify where they need additional support.
Gender creative kids may set goals like using self-determined pronouns/gender identity at school, wearing a dress in public, coming out to a family member, etc. You can turn these goals into S.M.A.R.T. goals by chunking them into smaller, measurable, achievable sub-goals that can realistically be achieved in a timely way. A subgoal could be to wear a dress to a specific location where they know they’ll be received well and to allow that success to integrate into their self-confidence. Celebrate all the little successes. Show kids how a perceived failure can be an opportunity to redefine their goals to ensure success.
Adults have had the gift of time to know that life is full of challenges that come and go. Children don’t yet have the life experience to see challenges through this lens. Helping children build resilience will give them the tools to face life’s challenges when you’re not able to be there to help. Setting children up with the relationships they need to feel safe and supported, the self-regulatory skills to manage internal difficulty, and the skill set and achieve goals are three great steps to raise resilient gender creative kids!