The Transylvania Times -

By Alice Wellborn
Everyday Education 

Help Children Be Resilient


Last updated 7/15/2013 at 9:37am

Resilience is the ability to deal with life’s ups and downs with strength and optimism. Even when life knocks them down, resilient people just keep on coming back!

In our world today, resilience is what we want for ourselves and our children. Families deal with divorce, financial disasters, domestic violence, job changes, health problems, disabilities, and safety issues. Children also deal with academic struggles, bullying, grade retention, crowded classrooms, and high-stakes testing. These are “risk factors” because they put children and families at risk of losing opportunities and resources. If we’re not careful, risk factors can rob children of their chances in life and set them up for failure.

Resilient children grow up to be strong, confident adults, even if they have grown up with lots of risk factors. What can families and communities do to protect children and help them become resilient?

Fortunately for us, where there are risk factors, there are also protective factors. These are the things that keep children and families strong – the things that allow them to keep on believing in themselves. Some of the things that researchers have found to be protective factors are caring and supportive relationships, positive high expectations, and opportunities for meaningful participation and responsibility.

What does this mean for us at home? It means that family members have to actively and intentionally support each other every day. Families who eat dinner together as often as possible, listen to everyone talk about their day, and provide a predictable home environment are supporting each other and building resilience. When we keep strong daily routines in place, we are providing a predictable, safe home environment for our children.

Building resilience means that we are cheerleaders and advocates for our children at school, and we partner with teachers to provide a strong educational experience. We are positive partners when we regularly check on grades and assignments, volunteer at school in some way, attend school events, come to parent/teacher conferences, and participate in the PTA.

Families build resilience when they work as a team to get jobs done. Everyone needs to know that their contribution matters – that every contribution is important to the family. How can that happen? Assign age-appropriate chores to everyone in the family. Ask children to be responsible for their pets and personal belongings. Involve children in planning family trips and events. Expect every family member to contribute to the enterprise!

There are lots of things that make it hard to provide protective factors for our kids, but here is the biggest one: we have to be physically and emotionally available to our children. It’s time for an honest look in the mirror!

Are you depressed? Because if you are, you cannot be available to your kids. Make the phone call, see your doctor, and get some help.

Do you regularly drink too much or take drugs (even prescription medications)? Once again, if you do, you cannot be available to your children. Seek out the resources in your community for substance abuse counseling by talking with your doctor or your pastor.

Do you spend much of your time involved in social media and computer activities? When you are online during family time, you are not available to your kids. When your kids are home, get off the computer and interact with them, face to face.

Now let’s think about school for a minute. How do the protective factors work in the school environment?

Children thrive when they have meaningful relationships with caring adults in the school community. Teachers are most important, but kids can also have great relationships with guidance counselors, principals, librarians, school psychologists, coaches, and custodians. The best way to make this happen is to make sure that you are a part of your child’s school community and a strong supporter of school staff.

Children need high expectations and the support to reach their goals. Expectations also have to be honest and realistic, and sometimes the support that a child needs includes a PEP, an IEP or a 504 plan. Enjoy your child’s successes and ask for help with your child’s struggles. We all struggle with something.

Children learn life skills when they are strong, responsible members of their school community. Schools have leadership opportunities for children, even in elementary school. Student government, peer mediation, peer tutoring, safety patrol, yearbook, and school newspaper – all of these activities give children a chance to help others and develop leadership skills. And children can be strong members of the school community just by following rules, treating others with kindness and respect, and doing their best.

Children also benefit from protective factors in their larger communities. Many of us are who we are today because of a coach, a Sunday School teacher, an employer, a Scout leader, or a neighbor. In communities, children learn that they are important, that they have the ability to develop skills, and that they have the power to make things happen.

Children need to feel competent and confident in their abilities, and they need to feel connected to their communities. Chil-dren need to learn how to cope with stress, and they need to feel that their decisions and actions give them some control over what happens to them. These strengths take years to develop, and it takes team work – families, schools, communities. Let’s all get on board!

(Wellborn is currently a school psychologist in Transylvania County schools.)


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