The challenges of building a strong family are many but one of the biggest can be to develop the coping skills to pull together during a crisis and not fall apart. It has been said that hard times can bring out the very best or the very worst in individuals and families, but there are some things that can be done to build family resiliency and learn to roll with some of the rough patches in life.
The ability to pull together as a family during a time of crisis is closely linked to fostering a sense of overall optimism and being able to avoid “doomsday” thinking. This means watching out for thoughts that convey a sense of hopelessness, all-or-nothing thinking, or assuming that because things are tough or hard now, they ALWAYS will be. For those of us who were raised with this sort of thinking during times of crisis, it can be a tough habit to break. We may even be pessimistic without realizing it and set the tone for family pessimism. Developing and practicing some basic “optimism skills” can make a difference in how we deal with crisis: “Things will get better soon;” “Everything is temporary;” and “Tomorrow is another day” are all typical catch phrases that can send a message of resiliency. It may seem obvious, but it works.
Learning to detach from the “what ifs” and the tendency to expect bad things to happen can be important too. Encourage family members to focus on the moment-the tasks and activities that need to happen right now instead of fussing about bigger problems and fears. Staying focused on daily tasks and turning to each other for comfort, grounding and laughter may also sound simple, but it is the hallmark of resilient families.
Cultivate activities that can help all the family members feel better during a hardship-bake cookies, go feed the ducks at a nearby park, go for a bicycle ride or rent a movie. It does not have to be an expensive or complicated activity, but one that everyone enjoys and one that brings you closer together. A few laughs and a chance to “settle” can make a big difference in how well you face a potential crisis.
Watch out for the big troublesome behaviors that tear families apart: blame, fighting and bickering, denial, and turning to outside people and resources for reassurance. Of course, it is important to have friends and family members to talk to and other coping skills like going for jog, working out at the gym, etc. but if these exclude working on things together as a family, they can be more detrimental to the family coping than helpful.