Resiliency is not a superpower. You don’t wake up one day feeling that you’ve suddenly conquered all your difficulties and distress overnight nor with the mindset that you can take over the world without any hesitation. Experiencing life altering events such as death, an accident, illness, etc., affects people differently, and each of us copes with these challenges in our own way. Resiliency is the ability to adapt in the face of adversity to the stressors, its not only about being able to bounce back and move on from these events but to find a way to obtain a sense of control, to adjust to a new situation and most importantly to grow from it.
Children have an innate ability to see the world in a way that adults have forgotten. They often take our inner child by the hand in unexpected ways. If you are ready to connect in this way it can be an incredible opportunity to bridge the gaps between your inner child and theirs, by fostering your child’s curiosity you are teaching them that you are available to offer guidance, to model behavior, and listen. I urge parents to not resist and to go along on the journey with their child.
As a teacher, my supervisors would oftentimes find me sitting on the floor with the children, when questioned, my respond would likely be conjoint answers “Why are we on the floor guys?” or “Why are we inside the box?”. It was important to me that my students understood that the classroom was their safe oasis, where their emotions were validated, their opinions heard, and their needs met with care. Making them feel that they were involved in the decision making that took place within the classroom, expressed to them that they were the AVP or “a valued person.” Listening was a major factor and play was another way to impart that I “saw” them, I understood who they were as we jumped on the quest of searching for lost cheerios on our floors.
We are not born resilient. This is a skill developed over time by taking the lessons out of our life events. Our propensity to lean towards risk taking or risk-free behavior may be determined by our DNA, but it is our development of problem solving and solution-oriented skills that will see us through to the other side. As parents we can assist our children in developing these kids by taking advantage of learning opportunities during any given interaction. The following are some examples:
If you are constantly solving every challenge for your child or avoiding teaching opportunities, you are committing a disservice to them. Allowing them to confront challenges is an opportunity to build character and consequently resiliency. We mustn’t coddle or overprotect our children from the world, on the contrary we should provide them with the knowledge and tools they will need to face it, in doing so they will feel like there is nothing they can’t face, that they can go on to achieve great things, that the world is their oyster. As a mother I understand how difficult it is to sometimes resist the urge to make everything alright for our children. But when your child comes to you with a problem: I suggest you problem solve WITH them not FOR them. Ask them questions that will invoke conversation and help them develop critical thinking. If your child is still very young to understand the complexity of some topics, then “help” them come up with a solution to their specific problem.
For those of us who have a difficult time overcoming challenges as parents, we must remember that out children are individuals with their own way of perceiving the world and their very own set of wants and needs. We must break the cycles of generational and cultural trauma so that our children can grow up as health individuals who aren’t afraid of taking healthy risks.
As a child, I searched for opportunities to take risks away from the adults surrounding me. The classrooms for me was a place full of rules and restrictions; I felt unheard and invisible, the opportunities for me to explore were next to non-existent. However, after school I would go home where I was received by my Dominican matriarchs who allowed me opportunities to think critically, solve problems, and see the bigger picture. When I didn’t understand a homework, my mother would ask me questions that would help me reach the answers on my own, my grandmother would engage in imaginative play which helped me feel that the way in which I perceived the world was not wrong. As a child growing up in poverty with little resources, it was crucial to see the world differently. My mother and grandmother emphasized daily that I needed to become self-sufficient so that I could fend for myself in the case that they would no longer be around. These conversations may be daunting for any child, but in my case, they made me out to be the woman I am today.
Our family, our teachers, our communities can influence who we become, our primary caregivers play an even more pivotal role in our development. In my case, the skills taught to me by my mother and grandmother helped me overcome life’s challenges with pure optimism and a childlike approach to life.
Another great thing to do as a parent, caregiver or teacher is to help children identify their emotions. I’m probably going to “display” what I’m feeling when I don’t have the vocabulary or the techniques to express it in a healthy way. It’s way easier to flip my desk than to tell you “I am very upset right now and I can take it anymore. I need a walk or some fresh air” this may sound like something so simple to put together but this can be huge for a child with emergent vocabulary.
Making our communities spaces with more opportunities to thrive (better quality childcare, accessible transportation, playgrounds, greenspaces, etc.) also help build resilience in children. The community as a whole benefits from children having spaces in which they can develop themselves in a healthy way.
Reaching out for help when we need it is essential to building your resilience. For many, using the information I have shared can be enough to build resilience. But at times, we may get stuck or have a difficult time processing and adapting, when this happens seeking professional help can make a difference. A licensed professional can offer strategies to cope with everyday stressors. Please do remember, that you are not alone, while we may be not be able to control our circumstances all the time, we can use the negative to grow by focusing on the positive and manage stressors with the support of loved ones, community and trusted professionals.