MYTH: All Kids Are Innately Resilient




Let's review 2020 from the perspective of a child in elementary school. If the child is lucky, there are two caregivers in the household, and plenty of funds. Housing, healthcare, food, physical safety . . . these are all givens. This child is at the starting line for this scenario with privilege and no predictable or systemic obstacles. And when they discover that after Spring Break they're not going back to school, it's not a big deal because, hey, they've got 2 caregivers at home and plenty of money and all that and they won't be that affected.


WRONG. Not. Even. Them. (/Especially not them, in some cases, as aspects of privilege are frequently contributing factors to the absence of resilience.)


What is resilience, anyway?


It's usually a term that is defined by the ability to bounce back or respond in a healthy way in the face of adversity.


How many resilient grown-ups do you know?


When humans of any age experience adversity or even trauma, they do one of two things:

  1. resolve it and integrate it (Bueller . . . Bueller . . . ); OR they

  2. find a way to cope/adapt.

And their coping mechanism, whether it's appeasing, avoiding conflict, acting defensively, acting aggressively, shutting down, lashing out . . . being the most competent and seemingly-self-sufficient person on the planet . . . becomes their personality.


This is not the resilience you're looking for . . .


Resilience, for most people, is something that needs to be learned.


We all--kids included--have all kinds of inner resources that we're not even aware of. Right. Now. Here are three things you can do with your kids--today--to help them notice and connect with their resources. Talking about the resources further amplifies them, so chat away!


  1. Recalling moments of growth and increased capacity or competence. And then savoring them (i.e., keeping them in the mind, describing them, and noticing what feelings in the body travel along with the story)! Have your child (and of course you can do this yourself, as well), tell you about how they got better and better at something and felt better and better about themselves as a result. Competence builds confidence, and confidence that you can get through something and learn from it and integrate it into how you move forward . . .that's the resilience you're looking for.

  2. Describing current social resources. You've got friends, you've got parents and other relatives, you've got neighbors, you've got a therapist (go you!). Name the people, people! Take your own personal inventory of people you feel safe around. Do this with kids! You can do a brief practice where you still yourselves a bit (kids might never get totally still, nor do they need to. This is about down-regulating, and doing it in a calming, supportive environment.) Tell the stories of interactions that have gone well, conflicts that were well-resolved, collaboration, meetings of the minds, instances of compromise. Each day, I promise you, there is at least one interaction that could have gone a few ways. Either you talk about how you/your child did it well, or you talk about what you all learned about how to handle it better next time. We learn by messing up and realizing we messed up and then working through that toward a different way of being next time (when, by the way, we still might mess up).

  3. Find safety within. Safety is generated internally and externally. And we can do something about both. External? We can close a door or open a door or leave a room or walk away or turn a light on. We can influence our sense of external safety. Internal? We can shift our focus. When there is no real external physical threat, and the threat is perceived, that's all your brain needs to conjure up all kinds of emotions and reactions. And the more aware you are of how your mind/body functions, the better you become at shifting your focus and responding skillfully rather than getting dragged into some story your perception has constructed.

WHAT? How exactly do I do that or get my kid to do any of that?


Mindfulness. Here are two FREE tracks for kids, for starters, and you can sign them up, or yourselves, for Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, here.


© 2021 by Mary Martin PhD 

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Jupiter, FL