Families, communities, and nations are strengthened when individuals develop resilience. Resilience is the ability to spring back into shape after being bent, compressed, or stretched. It is the ability to recover quickly from a tough experience. For people to become resilient, there must be time and effort invested in the process. All of us need help in developing resilience, and wise parents, grandparents, and teachers will be mindful of building resilience in the rising generation.
When Sheryl Sandberg’s husband suddenly died from cardiac arrhythmia while on vacation, she was concerned about how her children would deal with his death. She sought counsel from a friend who helps grieving children as well as a psychologist friend and “professor who studies how people find motivation and meaning.” She gained understanding and received assurance that there were actions that she could take to help her children build resilience. She explains the need for resilience as follows.
As parents, teachers and caregivers, we all want to raise resilient kids – to develop their strength so they can overcome obstacles big and small. Resilience leads to better health, greater happiness and more success. The good news is that resilience isn’t a fixed personality trait; we’re not born with a set amount of it. Resilience is a muscle we can help kids build.
And every kid faces challenges. Some stumbles are part of growing up. Forgetting lines in a school play. Failing a test. Losing a big game. Seeing a friendship unravel. Other hardships are far more severe. Two out of 10 children in the United States live in poverty. More than 2.5 million kids have a parent in jail, and many endure serious illness, neglect, abuse or homelessness. We know that the trauma from experiences like these can last a lifetime; extreme harm and deprivation can impede a child’s intellectual, social, emotional and academic progress. As a society, we owe all our children safety, support, opportunity and help finding a way forward.
I found it interesting that Sandberg did not mention divorce or death of loved ones as hardships. At any rate Sandberg learned from her friends and her studies that she could take certain actions that would help her children to build resilience. Sandberg’s friend who deals with grieving children “said that the most important thing was to tell my kids over and over how much I loved them and that they were not alone.” Sandberg also learned the importance of the following principles in building resilience.
The first principle is “mattering.” We all want to know if we make a difference to others. Do we matter to them? Do they care about us? Do they depend on us? “Adolescents who feel that they matter are less likely to suffer from depression, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts. They’re less likely to lash out at their families and engage in rebellious, illegal and harmful behaviors. Once they reach college, they have better mental health.”
The second principle is “companioning.” Most parents want to take pain and discomfort from their children. We can kiss away many of their hurts when they are little, but their problems become bigger as they mature. Parents cannot always solve the problems, but they can walk with their children through the problems by listening to them and making sure that they know that they are not alone with their problem. We can “create and maintain warm and strong relationships, communicate openly with children, use effective discipline, avoid depression and help their children develop coping skills and strategies.”
The third principle is “remembering.” We can help each other by sharing our memories - both good and bad - and by talking about the past. We can share stories about grandparents and other ancestor and stories of our childhood. When we know that we are part of a larger group, we feel less alone. Sandberg says that “Jamie Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas, has found that expressing painful memories can be uncomfortable in the moment, but improves mental and even physical health over time.”
A thought hit me as I was finishing this post. Many people marvel about the “Greatest Generation,” that generation that fought, survived, and lived through World War II. They did the job that was required and then went on with their lives. What made them so resilient that could bounce back from war when the survivors of other wars seem to have so many problems? Could it have been the relationships with the people back home? Did they know that they mattered? Did they have people available to walk with them through their problems? Were they able to share their good and bad memories? I believe that it was the mattering, companioning, and remembering that made them resilient. It is their resilience that made them so great!
There is much more information and ideas to support these principles in Sandberg’s article titled “How to Build Resilient Kids, Even After a Loss.” I hope that parents, teachers, and other caregivers will read the article to learn more about building resilience in themselves as well as the rising generation. Resilient individuals will bring strength to families, communities, and nations.