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A special guest blog series by Mollie Marti, PhD, founder and CEO of the National Resilience Institute
As youth move throughout their daily lives, they encounter many people in various contexts. They might move from home to the classroom to an after-school program or sports practice, to in-person or online tutoring—each supplying opportunities to connect and build relationships.
This span of touch points creates the opportunity for individually unique webs of support that can serve as a resource when difficult things happen in life. Each person in a child’s life has the ability to contribute to the capacity of that child to identify, grow, and share their unique strengths. For example, an educator might build skills in a ridicule-free environment, meeting needs for safety and competence, while a coach might develop an atmosphere of unity and drive within the team, meeting needs for belonging and purpose.
As an adult contributing to the web of support, you have a unique and important role to play. Your own flavor of support within your context interweaves with the support received from others to form a force that primes youth to be resilient.
So where do you start? Below are six ways, garnered both from research and years of practice, that you can prime resilience in youth.
Resilience is about relationships.
With societal emphasis on “grit” and “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” we must be vocal that the science of resilience is clear: First and foremost, resilience is about relationships and resources. When you intentionally seek to connect, challenge, and empower youth toward wholeness, focus on the relationship before focusing on other goals. Children are more likely to ask for help from adults when they feel seen and accepted as they are, without regard to a set agenda for their performance or meeting a particular mold.
Resilience is about meeting human needs.
We humans share certain needs that we never outgrow: a need for safety, belonging , purpose, and competence. We are stronger when we feel safe, feel accepted by our tribe, make a meaningful contribution, and believe that we have choices and are good at something important to us. It can be helpful to look at the underside of not meeting these core human needs. When people feel threatened, isolated, useless, or powerless, it will erode resilience and well-being. A key step in helping our kids thrive is to focus on our shared human experience and work together to intentionally create an environment in which each child feels that their basic human needs are met.
Resilience is about inclusiveness.
Growing resilience is a process of actively increasing protective factors and decreasing risk factors for all. This requires that each of us look at the children in our lives, fanning out beyond our own kids or those in our classroom to all of those within our reach: What are their needs and how can we help meet them? What lessens any child lessens us all. Establishing a genuine theme of inclusiveness is a powerful way that adults can model the importance of putting aside political and ideological agendas to work together toward the shared goal of helping kids thrive.
Resilience is about vulnerability.
Vibrant resilience building holds an inherent contradiction: Growing strength in others requires us to be vulnerable. The most effective resilience builders model what it means to be human by owning mistakes, making sincere apologies, showing compassion to themselves and others, and keeping the lines of communication open to all without judgment. As we dedicate ourselves to strengthening others, we find that we grow and nurture our own unique strengths. With humility, curiosity, and ever-opening minds and hearts, we learn. And the more we learn, the stronger we become.
Resilience is about the journey.
Resilience building is not a rush toward a finish line, but rather an ongoing walk toward a vibrant vision of wholeness for each person. As part of the process, it’s important to prioritize self-care and prepare for wavering motivation. Chances are that if you are not having fun or finding meaning in your work, you would benefit from taking a step back for a fresh perspective or additional resources. Create a list of people and activities that help you reset and refuel, and take time to celebrate milestones. Resilient communities begin with a clear vision of what is possible and take consistent action toward improvement, enjoying the journey along the way.
Resilience is about leadership.
Self-awareness and curiosity about how we respond to situations help us mirror and build resilience in others. As we grow our ability to stay calm and centered regardless of what is going on around us, we are less likely to get caught up in our own stories and ignore other people’s experiences. Each one of us has a story that is uniquely our own and deserves to be honored and heard. Long ago, Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of
changing himself.” Today’s resilience builders understand that a modification is needed: Everyone thinks of changing the world, but the wisest understand that this begins with changing oneself.
We hope these tips give you a strong starting point for better understanding and owning your unique role in helping youth build strength and well-being. In our conclusion article for this four-part series, Morgan Champion, manager of counseling for Connections Academy®‒supported schools, shares how we can apply some of these resilience tips to your child in online learning or distance learning scenarios. Our kids are counting on all of us to show up for them! Pearson and Connections Academy are here to support each child in being his or her best, and the National Resilience Institute is here to assist youth champions as they help kids to thrive. For more resources, visit www.nationalresilienceinstitute.org(opens in a new tab).
Mollie Marti Author’s note as we face COVID-19:
Across our country and around our world, we are being called to adjust to uncertainty and major life changes in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to logistical and financial challenges, many are juggling the responsibilities of caring for and supporting children, teens, or young adults who are newly engaged in online learning. Educators are facing questions about communicating virtually and nurturing relationships with students when they can’t connect in person.
As we enter Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s take a deep breath and remember that we are in this together and will get through this together. Here are a few tips. First, bring a curious mind to experimenting with what works best for you to communicate and express care. Second, tap the expertise of virtual education pioneers who have spent years innovating positive youth development within online environments. Third, when in doubt, tend to the basics by focusing on fostering a sense of safety, connection, purpose, and competence. You’ve got this—and many have your back!