Everyday Strong: Building Resilience In Kids Starts With Safety, Connection, And Confidence
UTAH COUNTY – Intermountain Healthcare’s Dr. Matt Swenson believes parents have more power than they realize to care for the emotional and mental health of their children.
He said parents can build resilience by fostering safety, connection, and confidence in your kids, or other children around you.
He’s partnering with the United Way of Utah County to introduce a new framework for emotional health. It’s called Everyday Strong.
News specialist Dan Spindle joined him to learn about the approach. He asked Swenson: “How do you advise parents who are saying, ‘Boy, I’m frustrated. I’m not sure how to talk to my children about these problems they’re having?’”
“You can’t have an agenda other than safety. That’s your only agenda,” Matt Swenson explained. He said it starts with the basics.
He referred back to a pyramid most Psychology 101 classes teach. It’s called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and prioritizes basic human needs including physical needs, safety needs, connection needs and confidence needs.
Swenson said many parents often wonder: “How do I make my child feel safe? How do I give them an experience with emotional safety meaning that they feel safe to talk?”
He said safety goes beyond feeling physically protected. He said children may be afraid of getting in trouble or letting someone down. Swenson said it’s important for parents to help their children feel safe to explore or even fail.
He said the best way to talk with a teen is by sometimes just listening. “Imagine literally, that you’re putting duct tape over your mouth, and you’re just going Mm… Hmm… Hmm,’” he described.
Swenson said creating a safe environment allows you to better connect.
“After you’ve read a story, when you’re eating dinner, take an extra moment to just really look in their eyes and smile, and say, ‘I just love hearing about your life,’” he suggested.
He said kids just want to be seen. “To see their struggle, and to see their life and their successes and I think parents can do that to say, ‘I’m watching,’” he said.
Swenson said safety and connection allow a child to start feeling confident. Parents can foster this by expressing trust or reassurance.
Connecting through apologizing, writing a note, playing, laughing, or asking questions are all good ways at showing interest in your child’s life.
He said there are certain phrases a parent can use such as, “You’ve got this! Be patient with yourself. You’re working hard. I know the kind of person you are!”
Swenson said that time of language is encouraging and resonates better with a child. “It’s not a lecture. It’s not moralizing. It’s not more instruction,” he said.
Swenson said once a child’s needs are met, they’re great at solving many of their own problems.
“If every person who had any interaction with a child throughout the day woke up every morning and said, ‘What am I doing today to deliberately and thoughtfully create a sense of safety, connection and confidence in the children in my life?’ I think we’d make a big dent in the problem,” Swenson said.
The Everyday Strong program isn’t just for families. Orem city is also jumping on board as the first Everyday Strong City.
Orem city leaders said their responsibilities extend beyond collecting taxes and paving roads. They want every city employee who interacts with kids to have in-person training to make sure kids feel safe, connected, and confident.
This includes the fitness and rec center staff, lifeguards at the pool, and librarians.
Everyday Strong director Michaelann Bradley said the Alpine, Nebo, and Provo school districts are also adopting the program.
“Not just the teachers and the principles, but the best drivers [and] the cafeteria workers, who can have an actual impact by connecting with these kids.,” she said.
For more information, visit check out Everydaystrong.org to request a handbook for more ideas on how to better connect with your kids. You can also watch an hour long presentation by Dr. Matt Swenson on the KSL TV app.