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Re-Building Resilience in Children

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. – Nelson Mandela

Resiliency is the ability to bounce back after being stretched to the limit or losing a great deal. Leaders have the capacity to rebound with more strength, stamina and resolve to continue on their path or to reach their goals. According to Edith Grotberg, developmental psychologist, “Resilience is important because it is the human capacity to face, overcome and be strengthened by or even transformed by the adversities of life.”

Resiliency is a very prominent leadership trait. It has been said that leaders are not successful in spite of their setbacks; they are successful because of them. Leaders know how to approach and handle adversity with wisdom and courage. Think of any great leader and they have been tested and retested many times. Yet, in the end, come through on top, often because of the adversity.

According to Steven M. Sothwick, M.D. and Dennis S. Charney, M.D. in their fascinating book Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, bouncing back is a choice. We can learn to harness stress and use it as a catalyst for greater strength and wisdom.

I believe we can teach children to grow in strength by flexing their resiliency muscles, through every day experiences that stretch the mind and body, with guidance from adults.

Worth remembering:

“Obstacles, of course, are developmentally necessary: they teach kids strategy, patience, critical thinking, resilience and resourcefulness.” – Naomi Wolf

Fostering optimism is one of the best ways you can build resilience in children. Optimism is a learned behavior, so it makes sense to teach children early how to look at life with a positive and forward-thinking attitude. We are training children mentally and emotionally to be open minded positive thinkers and doers. Helping children find meaning and purpose in life should be a central theme of encouraging them to thrive in whatever they do.

Other studies have found additional factors to be associated with resilience in young children. For example, Deirdre Breslin has studied children who seem to be adequately “adapting and surviving,” despite the negative life events and stress they experience. She has identified four characteristics that resilient children exhibit:

  1. Heightened sensory awareness

  2. High positive expectations

  3. A clear and developing understanding of one’s strengths relating to accomplishment

  4. A heightened, developing sense of humor (Breslin 2005).

Sothwick and Charney list ten major resiliency factors to focus on when making the choice to bounce back:

Ten resilience factors to inhabit:

  1. Confront your fears.

  2. Inhabit an optimistic and realistic outlook.

  3. Seek social support.

  4. Imitate and study resilient role models.

  5. Have an inner moral compass.

  6. Take up a genuine spiritual practice.

  7. Accept what you can’t change, and change what you can.

  8. Look at health and well being as a necessary part of your well-being.

  9. Stay physically fit, mentally sharp and emotionally strong.

  10. Look for meaning and purpose in adverse situations.

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