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Building Resilient Families: DBT Skills for Kids

Life in New York can sometimes be overwhelming, particularly when we feel stretched thin; which makes effective communication and conflict resolution even more challenging. The exact opposite of the resilience strength you want for your family.

Fortunately, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skills offer practical strategies for strengthening your family bonds, supporting your child’s emotional well-being, and empowering them with lifelong coping mechanisms. By implementing DBT techniques, you can build a resilient family unit where your kids feel equipped to handle challenges with emotional intelligence and confidence. No family is without difficulties, but with compassion and the right tools, you can overcome them together.

This guide will explore how the skills taught in DBT for families can transform how your family communicates, connects, and cares for one another. You’ll discover simple yet powerful practices for overcoming everyday parenting struggles, enhancing closeness, and empowering your children with emotional regulation skills that last a lifetime. The journey to a resilient family starts here!

Why DBT Skills Benefit Families

DBT skills help families navigate challenging situations with compassion. Parents learn strategies to empower children to build emotional resilience through mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. Mindfulness cultivates awareness and acceptance of emotions, while emotion regulation teaches healthy coping. Distress tolerance manages emotional arousal, and interpersonal effectiveness fosters mutual understanding and respect.

DBT for kids (or DBT-C) teaches children to build resilience, strengthen family bonds, and gain life skills to overcome challenges and connect with others.

 

  • Mindfulness helps kids focus on the present moment rather than worry about the future or past. Practicing mindfulness together as a family, whether through meditation, yoga, or simply discussing your day over dinner, enhances closeness and communication.
  • Interpersonal effectiveness skills improve a child’s ability to interact with others healthily. Kids learn assertiveness, conflict resolution, and compromise. Applying these skills at home leads to better understanding and cooperation within the family unit.
  • Emotion regulation gives children strategies to manage complex feelings. Recognizing emotions, using opposite actions, and finding balance help kids stay calm and think before reacting. Parents can guide children through the coping process and provide empathy and support.
  • Distress tolerance teaches alternative ways to tolerate painful circumstances. Kids discover ways to self-soothe, improve the moment, and accept what they can’t change. These skills help build resilience in children to face adversity constructively.

These abilities will aid them in conquering obstacles, communicating with empathy, and feeling confident enough to seek support during trying times. When your children learn and practice DBT skills, there is a noticeable difference, but their progress can only go so far. The true determinant of your child’s success is your involvement in the DBT treatment process right alongside them.

Get Involved in your child’s DBT treatment

As a parent, you undoubtedly want to equip your child with every tool necessary to succeed, especially during difficult times. In DBT treatment, your child is learning practical and effective strategies to build resilience and overcome challenges. This is only enhanced when you commit to learning DBT techniques alongside your child to guide them in confidently harnessing these skills.

This therapeutic approach provides a roadmap for empowering families through challenges, building open communication, teaching healthy coping strategies, and building healthy outlets for stress by learning and practicing these skills together. Reinforcing what they’re learning in treatment wil allow your family to become closer and better equipped to navigate difficulties, fostering resilience and growth over the years.

How can you teach your kids the core DBT Skills?

To build this resilience in your family, we start with the basic DBT skills like mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. Through repetition and practice, these skills will eventually become ingrained in their daily lives.

Cultivating Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness together helps cultivate awareness and acceptance of emotions. Are you feeling stressed? Stretched thin? Try taking deep breaths, engaging in sensory exercises, or simply meditating. Make it a daily habit to check in with your feelings and your child’s, validating them without judgment.

Throughout the day, encourage mindful breathing, walking, eating, or stretching for 5-10 minutes through short meditation or deep breathing exercises, and add time as they progress. Focus on senses and the present moment, noticing little details in surroundings to reduce anxiety and improve focus.

Teaching Distress Tolerance

When emotions become overwhelming, distress tolerance skills provide strategies for coping in helpful ways. Remind your child of techniques like distracting themselves or self-soothing through exercise or art. Help your child identify comforting activities, objects, music, scents, etc., that they can use when upset. Show them that distress is temporary and will pass. Model these skills to show their effectiveness in high-emotion moments.

Reinforcing Emotion Regulation

Children can develop emotion regulation skills by observing, labeling, and managing feelings. Parents can help by teaching them to observe their emotions, put words to feelings, reduce vulnerability to emotional triggers, and increase positive experiences. Practice these skills together during emotional moments. Guide your child to simple techniques such as walking or light exercise for calming down, challenging negative thoughts, reframing situations, and regulating emotions.

Modeling Interpersonal Effectiveness

Healthy family relationships require strong communication, conflict resolution skills, active listening, perspective validation, and compromise. Setting clear expectations for behavior is crucial, and following through with reasonable consequences when needed is important. Help your kids learn how to build healthy relationships, be assertive, set boundaries, say no, and respectfully ask for what they need—role-playing different social scenarios can help them gain confidence using these skills with family and friends. Additionally, expressing warmth, encouragement, and praise can strengthen your connection along the way.

By prioritizing time together and practicing these DBT skills as a family, you’ll empower your kids with the tools they need to overcome challenges, connect with others, and build emotional strength. Make DBT for families a regular part of your family life, and watch your relationships flourish!

Overcoming common challenges: staying flexible and non-judgmental

When using DBT skills with your family, be flexible and non-judgmental. Focus on empathy and validation, listen without judgment, and try to understand your child’s perspective. Expect setbacks and start small.

Choose one or two skills to focus on and refrain from overwhelming yourself by trying to change communication patterns and behaviors simultaneously.

 

 

 

As a parent, we also suggest that you:

  • Focus on listening without judgment: Try understanding your child’s perspective and experience. Say something like, “I can understand why you feel that way.” This helps build trust and encourages your child to open up to you.
  • Be willing to compromise when there are disagreements:  Stay open to negotiating and finding a solution you’re both comfortable with. Say, “Let’s work together to find a solution we both agree is fair.” Compromise and cooperation are essential life skills to model.
  • Practice self-care: As a parent, practicing self-care is vital. It’s harder to support your child when you feel overwhelmed or distressed. Make time to rest, connect with others, and engage in meaningful or enjoyable activities. Stay on your mental health and ask others for help when needed. Your coping skills and resilience will help strengthen your whole family.

With practice, you’ll build up your ability to utilize more skills over time. No one is perfect, so be gentle with yourself and your child. Remind them of the skills and have them practice again. Over time, these DBT skills will become more natural as your family develops the habit of using them. Stay dedicated to strengthening your resilience; the rewards will be worth it.

Creative Strategies for Implementing DBT With Your Family

Creative strategies for implementing DBT with your family involve making the skills practical and accessible. Approach DBT lessons with patience, compassion, and a willingness to learn together. Focus on strengthening your connection and meeting each family member where they’re at.

 

Some ideas to get you started:

 

  • Role-play the skills. Act out situations where emotions run high in your home. Practice using skills like mindfulness, validation, and distraction techniques. This makes the skills interactive and fun to learn.
  • Create visual reminders. Place cue cards with the skill names and steps around the house. This helps remind everyone to use the skills at the moment. You can also make a skills chart to track each person’s progress.
  • Start with one skill at a time. Take your time learning all the DBT skills. Pick a skill your family struggles with, like emotional regulation or distress tolerance, and focus on mastering that before moving on.
  • Find opportunities to practice. Look for chances to use the skills in everyday interactions. Validate each other’s feelings during conversations. Use mindfulness at the dinner table. Set limits and reinforce boundaries with consistency. Practice interpersonal effectiveness in resolving disagreements.
  • Make it a team effort. Work together as a family to implement DBT. Help each other remember and apply the skills. Check in regularly to share challenges, set goals, and celebrate successes. Approach setbacks with self-compassion and try again.
  • Seek professional guidance. If needed, consult a DBT therapist. They can provide tailored advice for applying skills based on your family’s unique situation and needs. DBT coaching gives families the support and accountability to build resilience over the long run.

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