Resilience: A Necessary Skill

5 August 2015 by , No Comments

As September creeps upon us many people have mixed emotions about the ending of summer. Some individuals love getting back to routines and schedules while others dread it. When I was in high school and university I would be the one with the varied feelings. I am learning with age that I can experience a variety of emotions plus move forward and be resilient with the reality of school starting, vacations being over (for now) and of course more traffic!

What is Resilience?

Resilience can be defined as picking yourself up when there is adversity or change, threat or perceived threat. It is an important aspect of mental health. Resilient individuals are able to adapt, cope and learn from incidents that have occurred in their lives
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Assisting our children to strengthen and/or build resilience is extremely important. Caring parents, teachers, daycare works, and family members can help teach resilience making a difference in children’s lives.
Some children perceive change as unsettling. Research has shown that adaptability is one of the nine temperament traits (Chess and Thomas, 1977). We are born with these traits. We all know children who would be disturbed to find their teacher leaving due to maternity/paternity leave. As for some parents, it can be heart wrenching having to deal with the social pitfalls such as exclusion their children can experience throughout their school career.

Resilience can be taught! Learning to have the courage to say “I can” versus “I can’t” is teachable.

How Do We Develop Resilience?

1. Awareness that there will be set backs in life, is the first step. Many individuals hope that if I do A, B and C plus be a good person life will tick along fine. The reality is that sometimes this is true and sometimes it isn’t. Because we are human and cannot control everything in our lives, change always happens. Focusing on what we can control is important.
Share some of your stories with your children of how you handled uncertainty at different times in your life. Perhaps you had mantras such as “The best things in life sometimes start out as the worst”, or “Winners never quit and quitters never win”. Reassuring your children that you will always be there for them gives them a solid sense of security when life seems uncertain. Teaching your children how to relax, meditate, and do yoga are other important ways to handle uncertainty which comes from setbacks and change.

2. Help your child feel safe by being empathetic and assisting them to look at different perspectives. When your emotions take over it is easy for both children and adults to blow things out of proportion or alternatively, to minimize how one feels. Catching your negative thinking can shift your feelings. For example, if your child is feeling excluded assist them to understand that tomorrow everything can be different. Perhaps they have seen other kids experience exclusion and then the next day everything is fine.
Teaching children how to problem solve and brainstorm, generating a variety of ideas and solutions to problems are ways to help them understand different viewpoints. Sometimes in specific classes, children are taught how to debate or how to write papers from two opposing positions. This again, reinforces the importance of viewing different perspectives.

3. Teach and model concrete skills to your children. For example, if they played in the mud and now have dirty sneakers, ask them “how” they are going to fix it. Give them some time to think of some options. Don’t jump in and provide the answers. If they are really stuck start the brainstorming process with them. Most kids these days know how to ‘google’ and can find answers to almost anything!

4. Guide them to manage uncomfortable feelings. It’s okay to feel anger, for example, because your teacher made the class stay in for recess. Listening goes a long way – no fixing, no blaming or colluding. If you have a difficult time seeing your child in emotional upheaval you may try to fix or pamper them – what they really need is empathy and tools to move forward.
5. Build on strengths and talents. What are your children’s strengths? Research has shown that self-esteem is connected to resilience. Our children have innate strengths, however, parents may not step back, watch and focus on these gifts. Take some time to discuss your children’s personality strengths and explore how these strengths can be used to create a successful school year. For example, if one of your daughter’s or son’s strengths is curiosity, you can teach him or her to explore and research topics of interest and creatively complete homework assignments
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6. Set expectations. Teaching your children to be active participants in the household is important. Many parents set the expectations that dinner time means eating together without electronics and everyone has tasks to do to keep the home running smoothly. Contributing to the family helps to build stamina – not many of us want to clean sinks and toilets – however doing tasks that aren’t fun are part of resilience and being uncomfortable.

Every challenge that you face is an opportunity to build resilience. Whether we choose to see it as an opportunity or as a threat is totally up to you.

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