Students today are often accused of being fragile, falling apart at the smallest problem, and spoiled because their helicopter parents micro-managed their lives. Many experts are now advising parents to let their kids solve their own problems and have unsupervised playtime with other children to learn how to cope with challenges like being chased in a playful setting. Many youth from high-risk environments achieve good outcomes, especially the women.[i] Specifically, one-third of children growing up in high-risk homes in Kauai learned resilience in a study by Werner and Smith. What helped was getting emotional support from a mentor and involvement in a community group.
The opposite of resilience or hardiness is feeling helpless, overwhelmed and hopeless. Educators are interested in learning how to teach resilience skills (such as the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence), the study of how to not be defeated by challenges and how to use them to grow stronger. Resilient people have the strength of character to risk making mistakes to stretch their abilities and follow up on reasonable goals. They take responsibility and don’t blame others. If a student doesn’t do well on a test, instead of blaming the teacher she or he can ask the teacher for suggestions about how to study more effectively. One way to cope with a difficult problem is to break it down into parts and tackle abstract and complex philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein. The reading became manageable when I committed to 50 pages a day. I had to really concentrate because the book was so complex, so I ended up writing an A paper despite my original feeling of being overwhelmed.
Another way to cope with challenges is to use positive self-talk, e.g., “This is difficult, but I will find help.” Part of being human is we continue to make mistakes and learn from them, as we evolve throughout our lives. We can expect to make errors of judgment with the intention of not repeating them. Can you think of mistakes that taught you valuable lessons? Resilient people think of themselves, not as poor me victims, but as survivors. Another characteristic of resilient people is they’re positive and optimistic. They express gratitude rather than focusing on what they don’t like. They look at the glass as half full rather than half empty. When you have a self-defeating “I can’t” thought, acknowledge the negative habit and replace it with “I’ll get help and do my best.”
[i] Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith. Journeys from Childhood to Midlife: Risk, Resilience, and Recovery. Cornell University, 2001.