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How Can Parents Build Resilience in Children by "Being With" Them?

Let's discuss something important – “being with” our kids.

As a mom and a play therapist, I’ve seen firsthand how crucial this is. We’re often physically present with our kids, but are we really with them? 

In those moments when they’re seeking our understanding and connection, they're ever-present at your side, especially during tough times. The spring season often brings with it ongoing challenges and exhaustion of old struggles, bringing to light the new areas of growth your family is entering as your kids continue to march up the developmental ladder.

As spring comes to life, daylight savings time happens, and life gets crazy with new routines and schedules. We shuffle our kids around, trying to juggle everything, and often, this leaves parents feeling like we’re not doing “enough.” 

We all have those moments of self-doubt and parental guilt, especially when we feel tired and overwhelmed and know that our kids need more of us. 

In this chaos, how do we truly connect with our kids?

As a play therapist, I believe in and know the value of being totally present with a child. It takes effort, and there are ways to do it with purpose and meaning, not more energy. 

It’s about engaging with them through play, observing, listening, and acknowledging their feelings and experiences, even in those “not the best time” moments. Kids are dealing with a lot—being ready for school, sports, homework, clubs, social pressures—and they need to be seen as more than tasks on our to-do list.

They’re little humans with big emotions and deserve our respect, honesty, and time.

“Being with” means authentically understanding that your child might be struggling with something that seems simple to us, like getting ready for school. Recognizing their emotions doesn’t mean we aren’t saying they don’t have to get ready. Instead, we’re showing them that their feelings are valid and heard. This helps them engage their problem-solving skills instead of getting overwhelmed by emotions. There is some brain science here, and that is another blog!

Parenting is an imperfect practice. Dr. Daniel Siegel’s concept of Rupture and Repair is about recognizing when we’ve had a disconnect(rupture) with our child and striving to repair it mindfully. We’ve all had those moments where we react in ways we regret. Apologizing and showing your kids that everyone makes mistakes and can make amends is powerful.

Children need to see their parents fail, and they need to see our ability to recover, repair, and become resilient.

As a play therapist, I use several tenets to “be with” a child authentically. Let me share a few I use daily at home.

A great tool I share with parents is learning to use reflective responses. This means following your child’s lead in conversations by reflecting on their behaviors, thoughts, intentions, wishes, wants, and feelings without judgment or shame. 

I strive to be a " thermostat” rather than a " thermometer”—responding thoughtfully to my child's emotions rather than just reacting. Thermostats can be managed and responsive to the need for change. A thermometer only informs you of where you are; moving and making it change is one way and often HARD to do. 

A favorite of mine is to know: if you have enough information to ask a question, you have enough to make a statement instead. This helps create a non-judgmental space. For instance, instead of asking, “Why did you do that?” try saying, “Tell me about the choice you made.” It’s about understanding the emotion behind the behavior, which helps your child learn to problem-solve, staying in their thinking brain and avoiding getting stuck in their feelings. This strategy also minimizes the power struggles between you and your child. Power struggles result in ruptures in the relationship, which is the very thing you are working really hard to develop with connection. 

Relationships form when there is a felt connection.

We are hardwired for connection as humans. It heals and repairs our hearts, especially when we feel like we are failing as parents, mothers, fathers, friends, and humans.

I hope these strategies support your parenting so that your child's development and ongoing need to feel connected to us, seen by us, understood by us, and heard by us are met. They matter to us.

Many parents seek out "skills and strategies" to manage and change their children's behavior. Skills and stratgies won't change anything if you don't have a connection with them.

The #1 parenting strategy is to learn and believe in the value of "being with" your child in a playful relationship.

So, I really wanted to break it down for you. What Does it Mean to "Be With"?

It means being fully present – physically, mentally, emotionally. It’s about entering your child’s world, listening deeply, understanding their experiences, and showing them you genuinely care by doing four key behaviors.

I am here. I will not be distracted. I will be fully present physically, mentally, and emotionally. I want to be so fully present that there will be no distance between myself and the child. I want to enter into the child's world, to sense what the child senses, and to feel what the child feels. Can you be in your child's world and not judge them?

I hear you. I will listen fully with my ears and eyes to everything about the child, what is expressed and what is not expressed. I want to hear the child completely. To accomplish this kind of hearing, I must be secure enough within myself to allow this child to be separate from me.

I understand. I want the child to know I understand what they are communicating, feeling, experiencing, and playing, and so I will work hard to communicate with them. I want to understand the inner depth and meaning of this child's experience and feelings. I can express their wishes, desires, and intentions.

I care. I really do care about this little person, and I want them to know that. If I successfully communicate the first three messages, my child will allow me into their world. My child will know that I genuinely care about them as a human.

The “Be With” Attitudes Convey:  NOT:

I am here; I hear you.  I always agree

I understand.  I must make you happy

I care.  I will solve your problems.

As a play therapist and a mom, I use play to connect with my kids because I know the neuroscience, understand child development, build shame resilience, and speak their language of play. Using the tenets of play above and parenting through the lens of "being with." I can be confident in knowing I'm on the right path to raising healthy, resilient humans, and so can you.

If you want more information, I invite you to explore the Playful Wisdom Parenting site, where you can find more blog posts and learn about my parenting program.

Adapted from The Art of Relationship by Garry Landreth and Sue Bratton



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