Like so many other parents during the pandemic, my husband Michael and I really struggled to hold it all together during lockdown. Caring for three boys under age 5—while trying to work—was an all-consuming task.
Having learned so much about mental health and self-care during Michael’s bouts with depression— something he speaks about often through his work at the Michael Phelps Foundation—we knew we needed to recharge to feel better.
So we worked as a team, trading off time with the kids for “me” time, workouts in the gym, or catching up with a friend or therapist. Michael and I had a built-in support system, and we used it. But our kids just had us… and at times they struggled. And we struggled with how to help them.
When our son Beckett refused to go back to preschool with his classmates, Michael and I were at a loss. We needed guidance and support.
I remember thinking, “This is hard, and I can’t be the only one feeling this way.”
Families in crisis
We know we have a mental health crisis among our nation’s youth. Many kids and teens are struggling with stress, anxiety and depression. And the impact extends far beyond them. As anyone with a loved one who has struggled will tell you, mental health problems affect the whole family.
Michael and I wanted to do something to help families who, like us, were looking for tools to help their kids heal and recover. That’s when we turned to Nemours Children’s—a trusted partner to our Foundation for more than a decade through their KidsHealth.org website that reaches millions of families every month.
We asked, “How can we best support families?” Together, we came up with the idea for Raising Resilient Kids, a video series that gives parents the skills needed to help their kids cope with hardship and build resiliency over time.
What is resiliency – and why is it so important?
People think that to be resilient you have to bounce back, to get up when you’re knocked down. That’s part of it. But it’s also the ability to not dwell on a situation, or beat yourself up about it, because you didn’t respond the way you think you should have. It’s giving yourself grace—and space to feel those emotions, whether they’re sadness or anger, fear or shame.
In our home, we try to give our kids the space to feel their emotions. So, when the kids are upset, we let them cry and we don’t try to rescue or distract them right away. I might say, “Do you need a hug? What would help you feel better?”
Kids also need to feel heard and understood. So we try to validate their feelings by saying something like, “You must have felt sad when your brother didn’t let you play. It hurts to be left out.” We’ve learned that acknowledging kids’ feelings and making them feel supported in this way helps them to move on.
Free, expert advice for families
Michael and I are still learning what it takes to raise resilient kids and we are fortunate to have had mental health professionals guide us along the way—but we know that not everyone has access to these resources.
Through our Raising Resilient Kids series, we’re hoping to help parents by offering free, trusted, expert answers. In the videos, we asked Nemours child psychologists Meghan Walls, PsyD, and Roger Harrison, PhD, questions that we had but also knew other parents were struggling with, like how to handle a meltdown, helping kids calm down, building empathy, and more. And the topics are helpful for kids of all ages—not just little ones like our three boys.
We hope parents will find the series a great resource—in English and Spanish.
Putting new skills into practice
Through all of this, Michael and I have learned so much.
Beckett is now back in preschool and thriving. It was difficult at first, but we supported him by answering questions and helping him know what to expect. He learned that he could overcome his feelings – and that Mommy and Daddy are always ready to help.
Parenting is a life-long journey, but we don’t have to go it alone. It really does take a village. Through this series, Michael and I have learned a lot about what it takes to help our kids grow up happy, healthy and more resilient. We hope that you will, too.
Watch the series here.