Teaching Kids Resilience, the Most Powerful Lesson of All

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Jul 7, 2015

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A 12-year-old client, who was being teased in school for her complexion, started harbouring thoughts of sadness, low esteem, and even self harm. During therapy, the girl pointed out that she had always been taken care of; she had never known this kind of stress, or learned how to deal with it. In my practice, I’ve heard similar expressions of helplessness, hopelessness and disillusionment, as other young clients deal with a broken relationship, poor grades, bullying or fallouts with friends. It makes me wonder – have we stopped teaching kids resilience?

What teaching kids resilience should be a parenting goal

Resilience is our ability to face difficult life situations, followed by the belief that we can deal with them. It also includes an element of being able to bounce back from adversity. As Alain De Botton, a Swiss writer and philosopher, expounds, “A good half of the art of living is resilience.”

Sometimes parents, in the pursuit of providing happiness for their children, shelter kids to a degree that make them fragile and dependent. But growing up is about facing challenging times at school, with friends, or even in relationships; what we do we do in response – fight back, ignore it, or stress over it – is a large part of maturation.

Research provides evidence that grit and resilience are protective factors when it comes to mental health. But they aren’t inherent; our ability to be resilient can be learned gradually.

How to go about teaching children resilience

Dr. Daniel Siegel, in his book Mindsight, talks about the importance of three R’s in children’s education: Relationship, Reflection and Resilience. These three factors, he says, should be communicated by everyone guiding the children – parents and teachers, at home and at school.

Raising resilient kids is firstly about relationships — not simply recovering from broken or bad relationships, but also building healthy ones, seeking people who are supportive and building a support system strengthen resilience. Our ability to teach children about the value of these connections is a tool to developing resilience. To give and receive support both are signs of this essential skill.

Reflection is another tool that allows us not only to connect with our own self, but also learn to be sensitive to other people. In workshops, I help children become aware of their emotions—whether positive, such as joy and compassion, or negative, such as anger or jealousy. Awareness of positive emotions, and the ability to generate those feelings within oneself, are very empowering for children.

This is followed by building an understanding of how we can control how we feel and choose how to respond to negative emotions. In one of my workshops, an 8-year-old girl was sad because her best friend was sick. When I asked her “Do you think you can do anything to make yourself feel better?” she said, “Maybe if I listen and enjoy, I can recreate the workshop for my friend.” What a wonderful lesson in perspective and empathy, from a resilient child.

I would add one more aspect to consider in raising resilient children: Failure. I’ve written before about how important failure is to a child’s growth and development, but it bears repeating in this context. When children attempt to ride a bicycle, tie shoe laces for the first time, learn to do their hair or solve a difficult puzzle, be sure to encourage the effort they put in; learning to enjoy the process, make mistakes and even fail are parts of building resilience. I tell my daughter stories about my struggles and failure because resilience comes with an acknowledgement that we sometimes feel vulnerable and need support. Telling children stories that only talk about our achievements can hamper their sense of self and leave them unprepared for their own challenges. Our interactions with children provide us with a lot of ‘teachable moments’—let’s be sure to capitalise on them while teaching kids resilience.

If you struggle with resilience as an adult, I’d recommend Victor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning and his famous quote: “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.'” As we grow older, it’s important to find personal goals, which can be a huge source of resilience.

I leave you with a final quote, from Maya Angelou—poet and epitome of resilience: “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

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Written By Sonali Gupta

Sonali Gupta is a practicing clinical psychologist with 10 years of experience. She conducts workshops to enhance the emotional well-being of couples, parents and children. She can be reached at sonaligupta297@gmail.com. You can find more of Sonali’s thoughts on Twitter (@guptasonali) and on her website, guptasonali.com

See all articles by Sonali

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