Written by: Lorena Morales
Translated by: Lorena Martínez Lombard
“The man is born free, responsible, and without excuses”
Resilience, or positive adaptation upon adversity, is a concept that has gained much importance over the last years. It has been studied mostly in children, trying to understand how, as they grow and become adults, they are capable of surviving and overcoming adversities, in spite of living in difficult conditions such as poverty, intrafamiliar violence, parent’s sickness or any type of situation that tests their developmental stability.
What has been found is that there exist certain characteristics that repeat themselves in emotionally resilient people. In the individual level, some include knowing oneself, having autonomy, self-esteem, emotional equilibrium and self-control. In the family level, they possess a structure that provides support and both the presence and influence of a close adult. In the social level, there exist support networks, affective and effective ties, and a sense of community.
There are many examples of people that in the past have resisted and overcome limiting situations. Some notable cases include Nelson Mandela, who after 27 years in prison became president of South Africa and won the fight for racial integration in his country; Victor Frankl, a holocaust survivor that gave the world the logo-therapy; Anna Frank, who gave the example of the power of hope and positive attitude in times of war; among many others who have been aware of the value of their lives and have had ideals that give them sense of purpose. In all these stories, what stands out is the capacity of compassion and forgiveness, which generate great liberty and happiness that spreads towards others.
In the present, we also have examples of great leaders who decided to leave their comfort zone and have gone far due to their resilience. Elon Musk, leader of companies like Space X and Tesla, is distinguished by his capacity to take great risks, convert his errors into experiences that encourage him to perfect his creations and demonstrate that when it comes to dreams, there are no limits.
Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon, also practices good habits of resilience, such as taking care of his sleep schedule, being disciplined at work, and doing domestic chores that could easily be done for him, such as washing plates, and that promote creative thoughts.
As parents, we can foment resilience in our children, working first on our personal growth to be able to model a better management towards our anxiety, frustrations, and life difficulties. For example, we can teach them to focus in the here and now, and put their worries to a rest, worries regarding the past or the future and that only consume valuable energy.
The main message we can transmit is that we all have the capacity to respond and adapt to difficult situations, that we are not alone, and can support each other as a community.
What can we do to teach resilience?
- Work on the relation. A strong relation will be the best way for your children to overcome adversities. Clearly communicate that you are able to manage anything they tell you, so that they don’t feel they the need to protect you from bad news.
- Be patient. Hear with an open mind. Don’t be inclined to fix things immediately just to avoid feeling bad and changing their perception.
- Support your children, not their anxiety. Help them feel value in a situation that worries them, help them overcome it successfully.
- Be careful of not promoting their anxiety. It is really good to talk about their emotions, but be careful of the questions you ask. For example, don’t ask, “Do you feel nervous?” Instead ask, “How to you feel about this or that?”
- Don’t try to end all their anxiety. Anxiety is good in terms of allowing us to take actions. Help your children identify this and be aware that maybe not everything will turn out perfectly, but they will be able to overcome it. Help them understand that it is their ally, not something that should paralyze them.
- Model their resilience. Help them see that when you have a difficulty, apart from generating anxiety, you are able to manage and resolve the problem.
- Help them find the answers by themselves, with your help. Go over a situation that stresses them out, one that they are able to overcome even in the worst scenario. (For example, if you are late to pick him up or if he gets lost).
- Allow them to talk about their anxiety and you about yours. Each person can experiment stress differently. For example, if you lost your patience and shouted at them, ask for their forgiveness and explain why that happened and what you could have done differently.
- Teach them language. Redefine or redirect emotions into thoughts: a “problem” can become a “challenge”, you can change “being anxious and hating the situation” to “I’m a bit anxious, but I know this is going to be a challenge that I’m going to overcome”.
- Put problems in perspective. Consider the importance of the problem. Teach how to be compassionate. Find the positive side to the situation.
- Plant valuable questions. Don’t ask “Why?”, ask “What can I do?”, or “How can I change this situation into an opportunity?”
- Recognize and signal out when your children do something brave. Confronting situations that generate anxiety requiere a lot a bravery. Recognize this, even if it is something small.
- Write. The habit of writing about you thoughts and feelings is a powerful tool for overcoming personal challenges. Writing helps bring other perspectives and liberate tension.
- Find a tutor or adult to help support your children. In occasions, especially when they start reaching adolescence, children can find better support with people external to their family: an uncle, godfather, teacher… help them identify these people and create a support group.
- Look at life with humor. Laughing at difficult situations can help liberate tension and create thoughts for finding better solutions.
- Be an optimistic realist. Observe reality, but look for the best scenarios.
It is important to mention that, if your intuition indicates your child is depressed or in serious trouble, pay attention and look for external help. We can have the strength to overcome some situations, but others requiere professional help that can provide more adequate support.
Finally, remember that the objective we are looking for is to discover and transmit to out children that together, we are able to survive disappointments and deceptions, not only intact, but stronger and giving them use for future situations.
As an educative platform that promotes child rights, Pequeñ@s Ciudadan@s seeks to help know and foment the right to emotional health. Our team is advised by medics, psychologists, educators, lawyers and philosophers that share information and formative activities regarding Culture of Lawfulness for children. We invite you to share our articles and be informed of more information through our Facebook page.
Lorena Morales is a clinical psychologists, psychotherapist and thanatologist, specialized in individual, partner and family therapy. Founder of Blueprint, through which she also offers capacitation to families and educational institutions.