Things will go wrong in life. I guarantee it. Things will go so terribly wrong at times that it may seem like the whole world is upside down, no one understands, and nothing can go right again.
I don’t say this outright to our children because I don’t want to unnecessarily cause stress and anxiety. I do let them know that life will not always go their way. Luckily, they have not yet experienced a significant trauma, but they will. Bad things will occur at some point. I want them to be able to work through these events, learn lessons, grow, and move forward with their lives.
Resilience is an ordinary part of life. The real question is: How long does it take to overcome the trauma that comes due to the natural course of life?
One of my favorite quotes:
When I hear somebody sigh, ‘Life is hard,’ I am always tempted to ask, ‘Compared to what?’
-Sydney J. Harris
Life IS hard at times, but that is the reality of having loved ones, dreams, aspirations, and a whole population of people with their own desires.
Although the problems the kids face are relatively small, they can be large in their world. The impact of a problem is relative to their previous experiences. Part of building resilience in them is trying to understand their point of view so that I can approach the problem from an angle that makes sense to them. From this point, I can try to show them how to work through a problem.
Minor daily setbacks occur. I want the kids to accept these and move on with their lives without taking the setbacks to heart. The lessons from these problems are valuable, but allowing the setback to affect the remainder of the day is not. The way that they overcome the problem can often be the most important lesson. It shows that there is often an end to a bad situation and they can take steps to bring about this end. I’m not sure that overcoming these everyday problems counts as resilience. I do know that it helps build a pattern of problem-solving and understanding that they are able to overcome these problems.
This is emotional exercise instead of physical exercise, but the results are the same. Repeating the thoughts and actions that lead to overcoming these small problems make it easier to overcome real trauma. If a muscle is not used, it becomes weak and stiff. Suddenly and forcefully using the muscle will injure it. Suddenly experiencing a trauma will more severely injure the mind if these skills have not been exercised throughout life.
Perspective and a Plan Builds Resilience
People say that time heals wounds, but I believe it is really the perspective that the event is not as damaging as originally thought that heals the wound. The passage of time blunts the thought. Honest reflection early on can provide the required perspective without the significant passage of time.
One of the specific ways we try to provide perspective is to frame problems as adventures. Sometimes they are small adventures, like not having the most comfortable sleeping arrangement while camping. Sometimes they are larger adventures, like the time we had to stay at a friend of a relative’s house (unexpectedly) because we were stuck in a flooding area after a hurricane.
The first question should always be: Is this really a problem? If it is, can it be an adventure?
One needs a plan to make it through an adventure. We try to get the kids to come up with a way to fix the problem. If they aren’t able to create a plan, we give them some ideas of how they can get through the problem. They don’t always like our answer,
“That won’t work!”
“I don’t want to!”
All common responses, but we still give them a plan. We want them to see options instead of obstacles. The more times they solve a problem, the more they will see that problems are solvable.
Finally, the best way to teach kids to Be Resilient is to model the behavior ourselves. When I run into a problem, I don’t hide it from the kids (as long as it’s something that fits their maturity level). I want to show them that there are ways to overcome and move on. Just like being healthy or any other trait that is desired, kids will follow the behaviors they see every day.