12 - 48 Months

Holidays Are Here: How To Be Resilient & Set Boundaries

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“Resilience is not something we’re born with or without. It’s something that we cultivate and we have to practice, and it’s really very much like a muscle that goes into atrophy, if we’re not conscious of it and if we don’t continually work on it.”

Dr. Zelana Montminy, Positive psychologist and behavioral scientist

This holiday season is different. For many of you, it is family traditions that make this time of year significant and memorable. But in 2020, reuniting with extended family is not possible for everyone. It feels sad and lonely. Jessica Rolph is joined today by Dr. Zelana Montminy to help propel us into the holidays with a little more cheer. 

Dr. Zelana is a renowned behavioral scientist and positive psychologist, delivering a fresh perspective rooted in science. She is the author of 21 Days to Resilience: How to Transcend the Daily Grind, Deal with the Tough Stuff, and Discover Your Strongest Self.

Key Takeaways:

[1:17] Dr. Zelana defines resilience.

[3:07] Zelana shares the top things resilient people do to get through hard times.

[4:50] How can we cultivate gratitude in our children?

[5:18] Modeling resilience for our toddlers.

[9:02] Strategies to help our children when they feel frustrated without solving their struggle for them.

[11:14] Helping your child deal with discomfort.

[14:19] How best to deal with judgement from parents and in-laws who might not agree with your parenting style.

[17:50] Zelana talks about the impact of the pandemic on babies and toddlers in the longer term.

[21:11] Consider ways to create meaningful memories this holiday season that cost nothing.

[22:30] Zelana shares one pandemic practice that will serve her in the long term.

[25:39] Jessica offers 3 takeaways from her conversation with Dr. Zelana.


What Is Resiliency When It Comes To Parenting?

Jessica: OK, so what are the top five things that resilient people do to get them through these hard times?

Zelana: I think before even going through tips, I think it’s really important that people understand what resilience really is because I think there’s a misconception in our culture that resilience is about the hustle and it’s about the kind of people who are able to push through and persevere, and I think it’s important to understand that what resilient people do really, really well is they’re able to take their challenges and their pain and actually use them, use the challenge to their advantage and to grow and to strengthen from something learned something gained. Sometimes it’s unintentional, but most of the time, it’s purposeful. So that’s what resilience is. It’s our ability to grow from our challenges, and so when you think about it that way, it’s not just about our ability to hustle and persevere and to keep going.

What Makes a Person Resilient?

Zelana: Actually resilient people are really good at finding pause and breaks within their work and their lives and are able to therefore rest and reboot effectively and efficiently in order to problem solve and to do what they need to do and to be at their best. So when you say it’s tips for resilience, there’s lots of things that we can do to work on that skill set, and I think that’s also important to understand that resilience is not something we’re born with or without, it’s something that we cultivate and we have to practice, and it’s really very much like a muscle that goes into atrophy, if we’re not conscious of it and if we don’t continually work on it.


Zelana: And so there’s different ways to work on resilience, but I think one of the best ways is acceptance, and I have a whole chapter on acceptance in my book, but I think first and foremost, it’s accepting the circumstances of where we’re at and what we can control, and then really focusing in on how do I choose to prioritize my intentions? And how do I choose to move forward with what I need, what I want, what my children’s needs are, etcetera. So I think acceptance is a big piece of it.


Zelana: I think, you know, we just passed Thanksgiving and we’re in the holiday season, I think gratitude is right up there on the list. Gratitude really sort of hones in on us focusing on what we have versus what we don’t have and finding the beauty in what we already do have, and I think that’s kind of been the silver lining, and sort of the underlying blessing during the pandemic is to realize how much we already have, right? And how much we can do with what we have.

And so I think cultivating gratitude in a way that’s adaptive for you and your family is really important, and I say that because I don’t necessarily think you have to have a gratitude journal and write in it every single day, and if you have the bandwidth for that, great. But there’s other things that can be done, little things here and there that can still cultivate gratitude. And I think when it comes to children, remember they’re watching. So it’s not just about telling them, “be grateful for that, because you really need to be grateful”, it’s more about us vocalizing our gratitude in front of them and talking a lot about gratitude, that’s what’s gonna cultivate gratitude in our children, more so than telling them to be grateful.

Positive Parenting Tips

Jessica: We messaged out to our Instagram community and asked, what kind of questions do you have for Zelana? And one of the questions was, is I’m feeling increased frustration and the short fuse as a parent, and my baby is picking up on this, what are some tips? And I think you’re getting into some of it, but it would also be helpful to think about how we can cultivate resilience as a parent and then also in our toddlers, babies. I think it’s a little bit more nebulous is my guess.

Narrate Your Resilience Process in Front of Your Children

Zelana: Yes, yes, it’s nebulous with babies, but I think with toddlers and older children feel everything. Babies, newborns on up, know what’s happening within us, and I think one of the things that I see with parents is that we try to keep our resilience process internal, and we try our best to show up in front of our children in a certain way. And I think what we’ve seen in the research, and what I’ve certainly seen in my work is that when we’re able to narrate our resilience process in front of our children, they pick up on those skills and it becomes part of their narrative and their behavioral process. 

So for example, you’re feeling really overwhelmed, okay, there’s a lot going on, you have a lot on your plate, and your toddler or older child is in the room and you kind of take a moment, you’re trying to breathe, you’re trying to figure it all out. You call a friend or do something else to get your head together and then you kinda hit your to-do list, we do that in silence, and then we kind of smile through it and play with our kid, and then we move on.

The whole time our child’s essentially watching us and trying to figure out, “Why is mom a little off or dad a little off, and what’s happening and, okay, now they’re here, now they’re not?” If we are able to articulate that process and literally say, “Okay, mommy is frustrated.” And be really open about it, even from toddlers on up, “And mommy is frustrated, so mommy is going to jump up and down five times. Oh! And now I’m feeling a little silly, in fact, I’m gonna turn on some music and have a little two-second dance party, do you wanna dance with me? Okay, let’s dance. And, oh gosh, mommy feels so much better. I’m actually smiling. Wow, okay. Mommy feels better.” And really just narrate that process. 

There’s been many times where I told my kids (who are eight and six), and baby, “Hey, mommy needs a mommy timeout. I need to take a deep breath. I’m feeling very frustrated right now, and I’m not in a good space to communicate with you, so I’m gonna walk away and when I come back, my head will be clearer.” Or, “Gosh, I’m feeling really upset by the situation, and so I’m going to do X, Y, and Z to try to figure it out.”

So it’s almost like you’re narrating your process, you’re narrating your problem solving, you’re narrating your mindfulness, you’re narrating how you calm down, because our kids are watching anyway, and what happens is there’s a gap where we don’t tell them what we do to feel better, or what we do to cope. And so they’re trying to pick up the pieces.

Allow Your Child To Struggle 

Jessica: That’s so great and helpful to hear that you can actually help yourself and by narrating and also help your children in the process. One of the things that I find, one of the hardest things is to see one of my children disappointed or sad or frustrated by something that really is kind of either a natural consequence or something that happens in their world that I just wanna step in and solve it, and I just wanna stop their hurt, but I would love to hear how we can help them lean into that failure or lean into that moment and not solve it for them. Isn’t that part of resilience?

Zelana: 100%. When we jump in to try to placate or to try to make them “feel better”, we’re essentially telling them that they’re not capable of doing it themselves. And that applies to everything. So when, you have, your toddler is trying to put on their jacket and you’re late and you need to get out of the house, and so it’s just this subconscious thing we do as parents to just do it for them, but something that simple essentially tells them that they can’t. So when we’re able to sit with the discomfort, we tell them, we’re essentially messaging to them non-verbally that we do believe that they can do it, they just need a little more time, right? Or they just can’t yet, and yet being the keyword there. Being able to let them sit with the discomfort and try to figure out the discomfort themselves helps them practice resilience and essentially create a toolbox for dealing with these tougher emotions that is just part of the human experience that we tend to just sort of demonize as we get older, but it’s very healthy and normal and natural to experience.

Jessica: Yeah, and if we can exercise that muscle. I wish I had exercised it more when they were young because I think it really starts to play out in a bigger way when they get older.

Zelana: 100% yes. When they’re young, as the earlier the better, even with babies, we can start to let them feel a little uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean you let your kid cry for hours on end, but if they’re trying to reach for a toy and they can’t quite get to it, just take a deep breath and pause before you hand it to them. Maybe just that extra second of pause will be when they actually are able to reach their body forward and grab the toy, and those neurological connections that they’re making and doing it themselves is so much greater than anything that they get when you’re giving them something.

Help Them Deal With Discomfort

Jessica: So then what are some tools to help them deal with this discomfort?

Zelana: We help our children deal with discomfort when we are able to be there as sort of a guide, but not saving them from the discomfort or ever pulling them out of the discomfort. For example, your toddler is really frustrated because they’re trying to do something themselves. Let’s say they’re trying to pour water into a cup from a pitcher and it’s spilling and they’re getting really frustrated, most parents at that point would jump in and say, “Oh, you know, you’re spilling the water, here, let me help you. Let me do it.” One way that we can actually cultivate resilience in that moment is just to narrate the experience for them and say like, “Hey, I see you’re having a hard time,” if they are articulating frustration, if your child is not articulating frustration and they just keep trying, but the water is spilling everywhere, that’s actually something a little bit different because they still believe that they’re going to do it, and so you ride with that feeling.

So let’s just say for the first example, they still believe that they can do it, they’re not frustrated yet, but water is spilling everywhere. And you just sit with that, you don’t even offer a solution yet, right? Because they might reach for a kitchen towel nearby or, you know, they might do something that could surprise you. If it’s just becoming a lake and it’s just too much, you could say, “I see you’ve got the water in the cup, you know, I also see water on the floor. I’m going to take this towel, can you help me clean up the water on the floor?” And then you kind of articulate and like, “You did it. You got the water in the cup.” You’re not going crazy and applauding and going over the top with praise, you’re just narrating and articulating in an exciting way the experience, and you’re sort of mirroring their experience of it.

Now, if they’re extremely frustrated and they are crying or screaming or having a really hard time, you articulate that as well, “You’re having a really hard time, you’re frustrated. You’re frustrated, you can’t get the water into the cup yet. Can mommy help you? Here’s how I’m gonna help you, I’m gonna take your hand because I know you can do this, and I’m gonna guide the pitcher with you, and then the next time can you try yourself?” So you’re giving them moments that you’re there, and sometimes you just stand there with them, you don’t even have to jump in, I’m just gonna stand here and watch, I’m just gonna help you by being here for you, and you can just articulate that as opposed to just jumping in and doing it for them.

How To Be Resilient When Setting Boundaries 

Jessica: It’s such great tips. I appreciate the examples too, it really helps it come alive, and I can just imagine you with Ella, doing all of this at the table, so sweet. So I’m gonna pivot and talk about how we connect with our parents or parents-in-law, we’re approaching the holidays, and maybe they don’t agree with our parenting style or our approach to handling COVID. For example, you might be going to see family in their home, your parents in their home, and they’re expecting your child to stay seated at the table for the whole meal or they’re planning a dinner that bumps up against bedtime. Or they act disappointed when you set those boundaries and stick to them. And it’s just like this general feeling of just not feeling like they approve of your parenting choices, what does resilience look like in this case?

Zelana: So in this case, and this is so common, but resilience and really parenting from a place of power and wholeness is sticking to what you believe is true and right for your family, and sometimes there are cases where flexibility obviously is important, and those can be really minor things. But for the most part, overall, your children, your family, your parenting, and understanding that your in-law’s perspective is really rooted in their own parenting experience, and maybe there’s things that they strongly believe or things that they did not do as parents that still haunts them and they’re projecting their experience on to you. Whatever it is, it’s not your burden to carry, and so it’s really important that we understand that whatever is being expressed toward us is theirs, it’s theirs to carry, and that we take on only what we allow. And I know that’s really hard to do in real life, but really, really important nonetheless. And to really stick to what you believe is right and what is right for your children because you are ultimately the parent and no one else can dictate your parameters.

Jessica: It’s so hard, I just want their approval, I just want approval, and it just doesn’t always feel very good, you know?

Zelana: It doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel good. And it’s okay to not feel good, it’s very normal to not feel good about that, and it depends also on the closeness of your relationship. If you feel very close to your in-laws, for example, there might be an opportunity to have a sit-down and have a chat about it and to really talk through that and to express your feelings to them. It might open Pandora’s box, but it just depends on your level of comfort expressing yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable expressing yourself, again it’s just constantly practicing that fine dance of being open and accepting of some of their belief systems, but also knowing that your parenting is the right way to parent your kids and that your approval is really the only approval that you actually need.

Jessica: Yeah, it’s so helpful to hear that. I remember hearing from a parent that they felt this mix of pride and guilt when setting boundaries, and I think by you acknowledging that actually helps so much, even if we’re doing the thing that we want to do, it still doesn’t always feel great.

Parenting During Covid

Jessica: And so do you have any concerns about the impacts of this pandemic on our babies and toddlers in the longer term?

How Will the Pandemic Impact Babies and Toddlers? 

Zelana: Up until the age of two, as you well know, children are really more interested in their toys than each other. Iit’s not to say that they don’t need interaction, but it’s kind of more of this parallel play process, so their interest is in playing next to other kids or their parents versus with other kids or their parents. But I think around age two-three, they start noticing each other and certainly, obviously socialization is incredibly important developmentally. I think we don’t really know the impact of lost socialization at this point and how those lost opportunities are gonna affect our children, but what I do know is that kids are incredibly resilient and malleable and adaptive. I also do know that within this sort of lost socialization, children have gained so much more time with caretakers and loved ones, it’s truly been extraordinary how much time now we’re sort of forced to all spend together, and so I think within that there is that silver lining that I think eventually they will regain normalcy and structure and predictability within their peer groups.

But we have to focus on what they can have and what we can provide them right now, which is socialization within the family unit, and what connections we can have with them. What we can do with our children that creates connectivity, which really is what socialization is about, it’s understanding social cues, it’s connection, it’s responsiveness. All of those things we can still potentially provide for them, and also opportunities for free play on their own is really, really important. So don’t feel like you have to constantly connect with your child, it’s not just about this consistent connectivity to they need their time on their own.

How Can Families Enjoy the Holiday Season During a Pandemic?

Jessica: So is there anything else, Zelana, that you wanna share with parents and families during this unusual holiday season?

Zelana: I think, honestly, the most important thing to remember during this season is that it’s not about the gift-giving. It’s exciting, of course, and great if you can, but times are tough, and there’s so many ways to create special, meaningful memories from this holiday season without it being just about buying things. There are experiences that we can gift our children that they will remember for so much longer and will be carved into their heart so much deeper than anything we can buy them.

There are experiences as well as Do-It-Yourself gifts that you can create on your own or with your kids. There’s so many ways to get creative and just to not be so hard on ourselves as parents right now. This is a really unprecedented time that we don’t have a manual for, but our children are incredibly resilient and we have the capability of being incredibly resilient as well. So gift yourself, like we were talking about before, that grace and compassion and forgiveness, and be present in this because really, I hope we’re never gonna have a time like this again, but I do hope also that we remember the lessons from this time in our lives, and those kind of infuse our days moving forward as well.

Long Term Pandemic Practices

Jessica: So what is one pandemic practice that will serve you longer term?

Zelana: You know, honestly, I’m going to be more protective of my time and energy and relationships after all this blows over. I think this time has really highlighted who I want to stay connected with, and the efforts that I made to keep those connections have been extraordinary during this time and I’m gonna keep that up. And it’s been really nice to be able to say, “No, I can’t see you.” And to really carve out the time and attention and energy that I do want to extend and versus not, so I’m gonna continue to be really, really conscious of where I place myself and what I say yes to.

Jessica: I am going to do the same. I love that answer. Thank you, Zelana. It’s been so wonderful having you with us today.

Zelana: Thank you so much for having me.

3 Episode Takeaways for Parents

Let’s re-examine some of Zelana’s perspectives on resilience, gratitude and setting boundaries.

1. Understand What Resilience Means

There’s a misconception in our culture that resilience is about hustling and pushing through. Resilience is really about using challenges to grow, and resting and rebooting is an essential piece of it. Resilience is not something we are born with or without. It’s like a muscle, something we have to strengthen through practice.

2. Narrate Your Resilience Practice and Gratitude

Gratitude doesn’t require a journal. There are ways to vocalize your gratitude — and doing so in front of your children sets a positive example. 

When we’re able to narrate our resilience practice in front of our children, they pick up on those skills. Articulate the process to your child: “Mommy is frustrated. So I’m going to jump up and down 5 times. Want to join me?” Or take a time-out, and let them know when you return, you’ll be calmer.  

3. Stick To Boundaries Without Fear of Judgement

Remember that your extended family’s perspective is rooted in their own experience. Whatever judgement you feel, it is crucial to remember that their opinions are their own and may be a reflection of how they were parented. Setting boundaries can be tricky, and sometimes it doesn’t feel good. Ultimately, this is your child so try to tune into what feels healthy.

You can find more mindful parenting tips on the Lovevery blog


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Posted in: 12 - 48 Months, 18 - 48 Months+, 0 - 12 Months, Uncategorized

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