A Focus on Resilience: Helping the Helper - Resilience Tips for Parents and Teachers

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A special guest blog series by Mollie Marti, PhD, founder and CEO of the National Resilience Institute

The work of building resilient kids often leaves out a key element: the resilience of the adults around them. Many of us nobly dive headfirst into the work of investing in our youth without taking the time to build capacity in ourselves. Yet we cannot lead others past our own point of strength. Research tells us that resilient kids come from resilient adults. You are much more effective in bolstering youth when you come from a place of nurturing resilient practices in yourself.

A key challenge is that many of us have spent years reinforcing the mentality that building up others takes precedent over building up ourselves. In an effort to change the tides and support adults in their own resilience journeys, the National Resilience Institute (NRI) employs the THRIVE 5™ framework.


Self-Care: Make it your priority to care for yourself as you would care for others. We aren’t necessarily talking about a spa day or a mentality of self-indulgence, although those are not altogether bad things. Self-care is about making sure you are socially, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthy so that you can joyfully and effectively contribute to those around you. It’s as simple as this: You must have something to give before you can give it. Start by eating healthy; getting proper sleep; moving your body in ways that feel good to you; investing in relationships and activities in which you find meaning; and allowing yourself time to reflect, rest, and repair.

Self-Awareness: An important aspect of supporting others is knowing how you will show up in that relationship, and then communicating needs and expectations up front. Do you understand what motivates you, what scares or frustrates you, what you need to feel valued or loved, and how you best get your needs met? Self-awareness can help you understand where conflict may arise and temper negative interactions. If you are not naturally introspective, that’s OK. There are many free assessments to prompt your inquiry. One good starting place is Dr. Gary Chapman’s Love Languages—a simple and fun way to better understand how you tick in relationships. Just remember, personality tools are not meant to put you in a box, but rather to help you gain insight about yourself and those around you. Take what makes sense and leave what doesn’t.

Emotional Regulation: Due to mirror neurons, how you show up to any situation influences how others will react. It’s essential to regulate your emotions and responses before helping others regulate theirs. In times of fear or frustration, the part of your brain that responds to logical reasoning goes off-line, and you must downregulate your brain’s survival mechanism (that’s telling you to fight, flight, or freeze!) before the part of your brain responsible for relationship building and logical decision-making can function properly again. Given the mind-body connection, physical strategies can help manage emotional stress and support mental health. Do a body check, paying attention to your heart rate and sensations in your stomach, chest, and throat. Practice breathing exercises when you feel yourself heating up or getting nervous. Engage in intentional movement to release stress. Also pay attention to your physical space. Is it designed to help you regulate by using natural lighting and comforting smells, reminders to frequently move your body, stress relief objects, or whatever else helps you stay centered? Remember, it’s much more effective to prevent dysregulation than to get your body calmed down once triggered outside your window of tolerance.

Coping Skills: Create a toolbox of go-to coping skills to use when difficulties come. What is the story you are telling yourself? Does that story accurately reflect what is happening? Does it give yourself and others the benefit of the doubt? One helpful approach to shifting our perspective to challenges is the “Crucial Cs” from Adlerian theory. These four principles can help you focus your energy on meeting important psychological needs:

Count. Am I investing in things that I believe are important? Do I believe that I am important?
Connect. Am I acting in accordance with my personal values? Am I intentionally connecting with others who fuel me?
Courage. Am I facing difficulties with the attitude that I can overcome them?
Capable. Am I acting with the conviction that I am able to be who I want to be and do what I want to do? Do I believe that I can make a positive impact for myself and for others?

Social and Relationship Skills: In keeping with social and emotional learning, we can learn skills that allow us to get along better with others and establish positive relationships. These are essential because relationships are the number one most important factor of well-being for humans—even more important than the absence of traumatic life experiences. A growing field of research is showing that despite childhood adversity, those who had a network of trusted adults fare better in adulthood. We never outgrow our need for a network of trusted supporters. Humans are not built to do this thing called life on our own. Our brains are literally wired for social interaction and social learning. Invest in authentic relationships. If this isn’t your strong suit, start with simple curiosity. Ask questions of others. Show concern about their lives, thoughts, and interests. Practice suspending judgment about others’ differences and accepting them just as they are. This demonstrates to others that they are valued and helps build points of connection while developing trust.

Now that we’ve established what resilience is and why it is important and how to support our own thriving as trusted adults, in our next article in this series, we will share some actionable ways to prime resilience in youth. For more immediate resources, visit the National Resilience Institute at www.nationalresilienceinstitute.org.

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