It’s a sad fact that mental health problems affect about 1 in 10 children and young people, this includes depression, anxiety which is often a direct response to what is happening in their lives.
What is even more alarming is 70% of children and young people have not had appropriate interventions. The emotional well-being of children is just as paramount as their physical health. Good mental health will help children build skills to develop the resilience to cope whatever life can throw at them, making them happy and healthy adults.
So what does this term resilience mean in psychology?
There have been various different definitions of resilience, the one I like the most is the “personal qualities that enable one to thrive in the face of adversity”. Most definitions view resilience as a positive adaptation to adversity.
In essence, resilience means being able to dust ourselves off and bounce back when something difficult happens in our lives. Our levels of resiliency will change and develop throughout our lives, and at points, we will find that we do not cope as easily as others, as well as surprising ourselves when we manage a difficult situation. Resilience is a tool we implement to help us feel normal again.
When I was little there were 5 of us and my dad always implemented competition between us. We all had different skills, so he would tell me, and if I can survive disappointment nothing will defeat me, I would be unbeatable. And it’s fair to say I adopted this somewhat arrogant metaphor throughout my life.
Why is resilience important?
When we feel in a weakened position and it seems as if things are going from bad to worse, it’s difficult to find our equilibrium. So, imagine being a child, they don’t understand or possibly have the capabilities to verbalise how they are feeling.
Last week, my daughter had her standardised testing at school, she really begged not to go to school and have to complete yet another test. But, I encouraged her to go because we all have to face situations where we don’t want to be in life. We need to remember that the results of any test do not define our worth, and nor should they.
This is why resilience is important. It enables us to build mechanisms for protection against experiences that can be overwhelming. It helps us to find that equilibrium in that stressful event.
What can we do to build resilience in children and young people?
The first point is to have good physical health, having time to play indoors and outdoors, to connect with people, to encourage children to connect and build relationships with friends; if they have disagreements guide them to resolve this as communication is also key in building resilience. Encourage them to have a sense of belonging to their family, school and community, make them believe they have some control over their lives. Encourage a positive mindset and encourage them to believe they can achieve anything to if they work hard enough for it. Enliven children’s spirit or grow a deeper sense of connection and compassion for self and others. Encourage your child to be thankful and look for the beauty in each day.
Don’t wrap children and young people up in cotton wool; allowing them to experience a situation they are unsure of and once they have succeeded this will build resilience and their confidence. Encourage that beautiful imagination, read them stories and encourage their own critical thinking skills.
“Do not indoctrinate your children. Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you.” Richard Dawkins
Of course, we can’t prepare children to ensure they survive any adverse situation but learning to be more resilient can represent one of the best ways to deal with potential disasters that they can face.