Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Life Lesson- Learning Resiliency

Finding My Way
Graphite, pastel, collage on Rives Black
30" x 22"
A couple of years ago, I remember telling someone that one skill I really want my children to develop is resilience.  Well, it seems that life always gives you what you ask for (!) and we have had lots of opportunities in our family to work on resilience. Life is full of curve balls, unexpected surprises- both good and bad, and the ability to face, navigate and weather these incidents is crucial for our health, happiness and even survival. And as we look around, these lessons are everywhere, big and small, whether our children are dealing with the flu, midterms, busy schedules, displacement from Super Storm Sandy, or the tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut.

In the fall issue of school district newsletter, district social worker Kate Rentschler and psychologist Dr. Loren Pearson wrote a wonderful article titled How to Raise a Resilient Child, adapted from the National Association of School Psychologists and work by Karen Reivick, PhD, University of Pennsylvania.  With Mrs. Rentschler's permission here are some key points.

Resilience is not all or nothing.
It can come in different amounts, at different times, and in different circumstances. Research has identified important ingredients that we can most easily teach our children.

Emotion awareness and control.
Resilient children experience a broad spectrum of emotions- it is part of our human experience. The main difference between a more resilient child from a less resilient child is that they don't get "stuck" in an emotion.  "Although they might feel sad or scared, these feelings don't prevent them from coping with the situation and moving forward."
Lots of Different Feelings
from Butterfly Kisses and Wishes on Wings: When someone  you love has cancer... a hopeful, helpful book for kids.
©2013McVicker&Hersh, LLC

Realistic Optimism.
Research is clear: Optimistic people are happier, healthier, more productive, better problem solvers, have more meaningful relationships, etc.  Research also shows that kids can learn these skills and that in doing so can protect them from depression and anxiety. Resilience is about seeing seeing yourself and the situation as optimistically as possible- within the bounds of reality.

Impulse Control.
It's the "stop and think" message before you say or act.  We all have impulses to say and think things that are not often in our best interest. (I still have that as one of my daily affirmations! It's a great daily reminder for our children and ourselves.)

Flexible Thinking.
The ability to view problems from several different perspectives teaches us to be problem solvers.
"Thinking Steps- Stop, Think, Plan, Check" can build flexible thinking."

Self- efficacy.
Self efficacy is about effecting change in the world. It's the ability to know your self, your strengths and weaknesses, and how to use your strengths in navigating the challenges in life. "Helping your child identify his/her strengths or talents will help build self- efficacy."

Empathy is our ability to "put yourselves in others' shoes."  This ability helps foster strong connections to others. Some landmark studies have shown that " children who have at least one enduring relationship with a caring adult ( a parent, a neighbor, a teacher, a coach) - do well and can overcome even the most difficult hardships.  Our son Nate can attest to this, in addition to having the loving support of his family, his friends, his teachers, counselor and coaches reached out to him at every step of the way after his injury in 2011.  These connections were and still are critical to Nate's resilience.

Reaching Out.
"Resilient children are not afraid to take risks... Their optimism fuels them, and their self efficacy gives them the confidence to try, even when that risk means risking failure."

These are all skills we can nurture in our children and continue to develop in ourselves.

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