Over the last months, we have seen families struggle and fall apart under the pressures of life in a pandemic. We’ve also seen families take on the challenges and stand strong. The extent to which COVID-19 impacts a family’s well-being largely depends on that family’s level of resilience.
What helps these families power through and thrive?
During more than 40 years of working with families, we have found that two important factors mitigate problems and support family and child resilience:
1. Positive and secure relationships
2. Developed family belief systems
Positive and Supportive Family Relationships
Strong family relationships protect children’s mental health, especially in high-stress times. The shape a family takes – single parent, multigenerational, foster – doesn’t matter as much as having at least one person to form a loving, connected bond with. For example, studies have shown that children with mothers who suffer from depression are less likely to develop emotional problems themselves when their fathers are sensitive and emotionally available. Just one supportive relationship can offset the effects of stress on children. We have seen this in situations where the grandparent is the go-to person or even a teacher.
Family beliefs don’t have to be focused on spirituality or religion specifically, they can be a set of shared values and beliefs about the the world we live in. They guide how we view the world and determine the meaning of experiences. By providing us with a bigger picture view, a family belief structure helps put events into perspective and informs how we deal with adversity. Both parents and children are better able to overcome the challenges of a trauma like COVID-19 if they are able to make sense of it.
A family belief structure makes both adults and children feel like “we are in this together,” taking the focus away from the terrible nature of events. It eases negative, catastrophic thinking and encourages families to look forward. Parents must convey the idea that the current adversity is time-limited and manageable, that we can talk together about our emotions, and that we will get through this difficult time by supporting each other.
Maintaining close family relationships within a system of supportive beliefs gives children emotional security, encourages open communication and sustains shared family values. Children can turn to their parent(s) for emotional regulation and face immediate challenges with a healthy perspective. Supportive relationships and family belief systems can reduce stress-related problems and lead to a family attitude of hope and optimism that further strengthens their resilience.