It’s been a stressful year for many people, to say the least. I’m grateful that the people in my circle have been lucky when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic; still, I see uncertainty and social isolation causing anxiety and weighing heavily on family and friends.
At times I’ve struggled, too, but for the most part my husband, two daughters and I have rolled with the punches, adapting to changes and navigating the unknowns as best as we can. It struck me recently that our outlook and ability to respond this way comes in part from our experiences as a military family. My husband is a sergeant first class in the Ohio National Guard. Over the years, we’ve attended many training sessions, workshops and retreats that have helped us build resiliency. We’ve also put the tactics we’ve learned to the test when coping with difficult situations like deployments.
“The military does a lot of training to help our servicemembers and their families be resilient,” says Col. Daniel Burris, state chaplain for the Ohio National Guard. He points to Strong Bonds enrichment weekends for couples, families and single service members as one example. “(Being in the military) has not necessarily been easy on myself and my family, with two deployments in a five-year period, but we are definitely stronger because of it because of our resiliency,” he says.
To better understand resiliency, why it’s important and how to foster it in any family, I asked Burris for some advice. Here’s what he recommends.
How do you define family resiliency?
Burris: It’s that ability to stretch, learn and grow from change and from negative situations in our lives. It’s the ability to bounce back, like a rubber band.
All families face stress. This year, 2020, especially, has been extremely stressful for families, financially and emotionally. Even through this COVID stuff, hopefully families have found a lot of positives to focus on.
What resiliency strategies do you recommend families employ?
Burris: One strategy is to learn that every person handles stress in a different way. It’s important for families to recognize that, so they can learn coping skills. Sometimes mom or dad may need to take a walk to cool off. Other people may need to talk through things and not necessarily hear your opinion. Some people need alone time. It’s also very important to know how your children handle stress. Maybe biting fingernails is a sign, and when you see it you can help them get what they need to deal with it.
You can recognize how your loved ones manage stress through observation or books about dealing with stress. There’s a great book called “The Five Love Languages,” which talks about how different people give and receive love. It’s so important to continue to educate yourself on your relationships.
“Always be growing” is another strategy. When I was pastor at a local church, we’d have marriage retreats. Some couples wouldn’t come because it would be like tearing off a Band-Aid. They had never done anything to make their marriage resilient, so it was painful. But the only way to turn it around is to admit what needs to be fixed. It’s painful, but in the long term it’s helpful. You need to be willing to make an investment and not be afraid.
“Hunt the good stuff” is a concept I remember from a military resiliency event I attended. Why is that idea so important?
Burris: It’s amazing how an optimistic attitude shapes everything. There’s a great Charles Swindoll quote, “Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.”
Hunting the good stuff is a great strategy in life. I can complain all day about COVID and what it’s done, or I could talk about the positives, like how much time my two kids at home are spending together, talking and laughing.
What behaviors can parents discuss with or model for their kids?
Burris: Parents need to have open communication with their kids, so they’re able to ask questions and not feel like they’re alone in dealing with their lives. Kids who feel like they can talk about anything with their parents have a huge advantage right there. One of the things my wife and I have seen — her being a child psychologist and me seeing it in young soldiers — is there’s a high anxiety level in children these days. Our lives are so crazy busy and with social media and always being connected, it’s natural our kids would have anxiety.
Another thing we can do as parents is to model balance in our lives — physical, mental and spiritual. I don’t think resiliency is caught; I think it has to be taught. We have to explain that when dad goes fishing, it’s not that he wants to be away from the family, but maybe he needs a few hours alone on a Saturday morning to be a healthy person. Kids need to be taught why we do things; we should not just assume they’re naturally catching on to it.