The strongest oak of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun. – Napoleon Hill
Have you ever wondered why some people crumble under adversity and some people get stronger? The difference between a person who continues to be negatively impacted by adversity and a person who uses the negative experiences to make them a stronger person is often a trait called resiliency.
Resiliency is the capacity of an individual to use psychological, physical, and social resources to overcome and bounce back from difficult life events. A resilient person is able to learn from challenging experiences and apply both coping and problem solving skills to future situations.
Resilient children typically have a calm, easy temperament. This allows them to manage strong feelings and impulses, delay gratification, cope with stress, and adapt to change and instability. They have an internal locus of control, which means that they will feel capable of thinking, acting, and achieving separately from their environment and other negative influences around them. They tend to be intelligent and they use both social and communication skills to negotiate, connect with people who support them, and optimize the advantages that they can. They have at least one positive caregiver who made them believe in themselves and they have a hopeful sense of the future.
Why are some people more resilient than others? Some people naturally focus on the things they can change and let go of the things that are outside their ability to control. Some people naturally set realistic goals and push themselves to focus on what they can do rather than what they have been prevented from doing because of poverty or some other disadvantage. Some people naturally know that they are special and worthy even if everything in their life is telling them otherwise.
There have been many studies on why two people who have had a very similar abusive or traumatizing experience will respond differently. One person will be irreversibly damaged while the other person will fight to become even stronger, more confident, and more resilient. There is a genetic component, but even that doesn’t explain everything because sometimes there are generations of families that have multiple layers of trauma and one little girl emerges full of light out of the carnage. What is it about her that makes her not just a survivor, but a healthy flower that grows in the contaminated dirt after a nuclear explosion?
Was she born or raised resilient? The answer is probably both. It is possible to teach all children to be more resilient regardless of their natural predisposition. This is important because resiliency is not just a trait that helps survivors; it is a trait that protects all children as they navigate through the hardships of the world.
To nurture resiliency, help children engage in an activity that they enjoy and can gain a sense of accomplishment from. Teach them first to be aware of their feelings, and second to be assertive enough to express those feelings. Surround them with supportive role models who will provide an example of a different way of doing things – communicating, coping with stress, setting goals, being respectful and trustworthy.
Probably the most important key to fostering resiliency in children is to not shield a child from all of life’s challenges. We need to allow children to make mistakes under our watchful eye, and to learn from mistakes. This will help them practice problem solving, discover their natural strengths, and feel a sense of independent accomplishment when they succeed. Resilient children know that it is important to ask for help, but they have usually exhausted all their own resources before they do that. Rather than rescuing when you see a child start to struggle, encourage them to work through the struggle with help.