Resiliency: How to Cultivate More of It & Beat the Back-to-School Blues
"Resiliency" has become quite the new buzzword, and after a year of navigating so much unknown, we could likely all use a refresher on what it is, how we can utilize it, and how to equip our kids with it as they face everyday challenges. It is an ability to cope, mentally or emotionally, with a crisis or an ability to return to pre-crisis status without long-term negative effects or with a calm and clear-minded demeanor.
Often described as "grit" or "mental tenacity," resilience can often be a critical factor in one's ability to "bounce back" after a traumatizing or significantly difficult season of life. What sets it apart from a toxic positivity or Pollyanna outlook is that it does not exist without the examination of hardship but is often fortified through it. While some individuals tend to be predisposed to a more resilient nature, all can develop a more resilient mindset and approach to the world around them.
Learning to see characteristics within oneself, or child, as resilience or strengths-based can be a test of mind and often takes practice. In a society conditioned to compare or discredit one's ability, acknowledging personal resilience is the first step in building upon its foundation and tap into it when anxiety-inducing or stressful events occur.
Here are three other simple but important things you can do at home:
1. Creating safe spaces within your home and in your family unit is an essential tool in building resilience in oneself and your child. Researcher Bessel van der Kolk credits safe connections to "fundamentally meaningful and satisfying lives." As adults, being able to express authentic emotions is a way to teach children that exploring their own internal feelings is safe and encouraged. It also models to children that everyone experiences hardships and that perseverance looks different for everyone but is attainable and valuable.
2. Be communicative when facing personal challenges (as developmentally appropriate) to show your child how you tap into your grit to push through. At mealtimes, try using "high and low" or "rose and thorn" prompts to identify each family member's challenges and wins. If your child cannot do both the first few times, that's ok but encourage them to dig deeper into what they struggled with and what they found a lot of satisfaction. Make sure you are modeling that behavior, too!
3. Building internal validation within a child is also essential to creating higher resilience. Rather than the parent or adult in their lives providing instant validation, cultivate curiosity in their process, and their own satisfaction can develop deeper roots of connection to their purpose. For example, when your child comes to show off their latest art project, rather than immediately following up with "That's great!", try to instead explore their process with something on the lines of, "Wow, how'd you think this up?" By providing your child to create the connections to their work and satisfaction of it, they can build validation within themselves. Of course, after they have walked you through, be sure to be lavish with praise and strengths you see—but slowing down to provide them the opportunity to celebrate themselves is an invaluable skill they can carry into their school environments, extracurriculars, and beyond.
Building resilience through these steps (and many others) can help reduce the anxiety and fear often associated with new beginnings, transitions, or other life milestones. A child possessing higher levels of resilience can often "bounce back" from these transitions with a greater sense of confidence, a willingness to try new things more often, and manageable emotional regulation. After over a year of inconsistent experiences, heading back to school may be a perfect time to refresh or build these skills and put them into practice over the summer months.
Adoptees have unique individual and collective expressions of resilience. Connecting with others pursuing the same goal can help build accountability, community, encouragement, and a bit of fun around it all.
Our kids have gone through so much over the last 16-months, and providing them an opportunity to acknowledge their strengths and celebrate them in the company of other like-minded children can set them up for success in this upcoming school year. At Barker, we understand the importance of this. We are excited to share our upcoming workshop: Building Resiliency in Adopted Kids, starting Monday, August 9 to Friday, August 13, with an in-person celebration on Saturday, August 14. This hybrid week in August is dedicated to establishing and celebrating resilience, how their adoptee lens can provide them insights, and how to use those unique skills in the back-to-school transition. This event is open to all adoptive families regardless of your connection to Baker. Spots are limited, and insurance reimbursement may be available to you. Learn more about this event here.
“Missy” (Melissa Herendeen), is Barker's Adoption-Competent Child, Family, and Adolescent Therapist. She is passionate about walking with individuals as they work to gain insights and find their voice in their personal narrative, using storytelling, meditation, and the mind-body connection. Missy’s focus at Barker is working with children, adolescents, and families.