by Tehani Gunasekara
Resilience is a concept gaining in popularity as people become increasingly aware of its importance. Resilience has many definitions, but they all have one thing in common: adversity! Resilience is experienced, expressed and evidenced in the face of adversity. No challenge = no proof of resilience.
So what is resilience? Resilience is the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity. It does not mean that you don’t feel pain, sadness, hurt, anger etc. Nor does it mean that life never gets on top of you. It does mean that you bounce back, recover and don’t get stuck in life’s sticky places. There are many factors that increase resilience and one of these is optimism. Research has repeatedly found that the optimistic are generally more resilient. If you think that your child is naturally a “glass half empty” kinda kid then take heart; optimism can be learned and here’s some simple steps to cultivate optimism in your child:
1. Teach your child to stick to the facts and not over-generalise
When something bad happens the words we use both in our thinking and speaking can impact our response to the event and our ability to maintain an optimistic posture. Imagine for example that your child has a disagreement with a friends at school. If your child says something like “nobody ever wants to play with me and bad things always happen to me” they are over-generalising. Instead help them to be more accurate and specific in their description of the challenge for example “My friend and I didn’t get along today, and I’m sad about this, but on most days we play well together”. This is realistic because you are not denying the facts, nor the pain of the experience, but you are doing also avoiding the pitfall of exaggeration.
2. Stick to the present, don’t fortune-tell
Worrying is a normal human practice and children worry too. There is no need to stop a child from worrying. However, it is important to teach your child the difference between thinking about the future and being absolutely convinced that their negative predictions will happen. Considering and preparing for realistic possibilities can be quite helpful; being overly confident in our ability to predict the future can be quite unhelpful. Imagine your child is starting High School and worries that their teacher will “mean”, the work will be too hard and they won’t have any friends. Take a sheet of paper and divide it into two columns. Title one column “Bad things that could happen”. Title the other column “Other things that could happen” Then in each column list as many possibilities as you can come up with. Help your child to recognise that they don’t know what their teacher will be like yet, they may “mean” , and maybe they will be “kind” or “interesting” or even “fun”. "Yes, you may not have any friends when you start High School and on the other hand you may meet some interesting people and you may be about to meet your future bestie in High School". This approach does not deny the possibility of bad things happening, but it recognises that your child doesn’t know the future and has just as much reason to expect things will go well as they do to expect things to go badly.
3. Zoom out - don’t get stuck looking through the microscope
Our brains are amazing problem solvers and when faced with a problem our brains naturally zoom in and focus on the problem in an effort to find a solution. This is really helpful when the problem can be solved. Regardless, keeping the problem in perspective helps your child remain optimistic. When faced with a problem, talk it through with your child and help your child accept their feelings as valid, problem-solve with them and then help them also notice other things in their life that they care about and are grateful for. For example, “You may be finding maths hard right now, so let’s do some extra practice on the weekends and also notice how well you are doing in reading, how kind your teacher is and how much fun you had at sport today.” Alternatively, after discussing the problem / challenge with your child ask your child about the good things that happened in their day or the things they are thankful for.
Optimism is the ability to maintain a sense of hope for, and confidence in the future. Teaching children to be specific about their challenges, entertain possibilities for the future and notice the gold among the challenge helps cultivate optimism and therefore resilience in our children.