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Wendy Sheen, photographed with her two sons, Heathcliff (4) and Hudson (6), on May 30, 2020. Wendy has created a chore chart for her sons to help them build resilience and develop responsibility.Kate Dockeray/The Globe and Mail

Wendy Sheen recently began making her children do chores, and not just because she wants them to help out around the house.

“I think my kids are sometimes feeling like the world is spinning out of control,” says Sheen, a long-term care worker who lives in London, Ont.

The chore chart she created for her six-year-old son, Hudson, includes making his bed, putting dishes in the dishwasher and other daily tasks. His four-year-old brother, Heathcliff, follows his lead. Both boys help fold laundry. These jobs not only keep them off the family iPad, but help give them a sense of control and instill responsibility, Sheen says.

The way to helping children become more resilient during the pandemic may be found in a dirty sink of dishes, resilience experts say. Resilience, the ability to cope with stress and overcome adversity, has been a buzzword in parenting circles for years. The COVID-19 crisis may often feel overwhelming for both adults and children. Yet resilience can be taught, and this moment presents parents with many chances to help their children develop and strengthen their ability to overcome life’s hardships. Getting children to help out around the house is a good way for parents to teach their children resilience, experts say.

“If I have kids at home, I’m going to make them do chores. It gives them a structure, expectations, an opportunity to make a contribution,” says Michael Ungar, director of the Resilience Research Centre at Dalhousie University and author of Change Your World: The Science of Resilience and the True Path to Success.

Having a sense of order, responsibility and an ability to help others is key to building resilience, Ungar says. Helping out at home with even small chores is an ideal way for children to learn these things, he says.

Multiple studies have linked doing chores in childhood to greater resilience in adulthood.

For example, the Harvard Grant Study, one of the longest running longitudinal studies ever conducted, which began in 1938 and is still going, found that people who were given chores as children grew up to be more independent adults.

Gus Wan began making his four-year-old daughter Charlie, who wasn’t tasked with chores before, empty the dishwasher shortly after the pandemic began.

“We’re starting to realize she’s probably going through the same emotions we are,” says Wan, who lives in Markham, Ont.

Wan and his wife decided that a chore, even a small one, would help teach Charlie responsibility and perhaps also ease the anxiety of feeling that so much is out of her control.

“That gives her a good purpose,” Wan says.

A sense of security, fostered by feeling that we are part of a social group whom we care for and who in turn cares for us, is another key component of resilience, says Suniya Luthar, founder and chief research officer at Authentic Connections, an organization with headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., that implements community-based support groups to help people develop resilience.

Children can check in on their grandparents over the telephone or arrange a video play date with a classmate they think may be lonely, Luthar says.

“It makes us feel useful and valuable. Encourage empathy. Encourage altruism. This is the stuff resilience is made of,” she says. “We all want to feel tethered right now. That is, tethered to our families and tethered to our communities.”

Whatever a child’s age, parents should check in with their children regularly to discuss what they may be struggling with, says Amanda Calzolaio, a Hamilton-based resilience coach.

“Start by asking them, ‘What’s going on for you today?’” she says.

Knowing what they are grappling with and helping them work through those issues is critical to helping them build their resilience, she says.

Sheen is trying. Besides getting her sons to do daily chores, she also talks to them regularly so that they can understand why they can’t see their grandparents or play with their friends.

“When we go to bed at night, I try to talk to them and say, ‘This isn’t forever. We’re just trying to be safe,’” she says.

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