Contributor: Zelna Lauwrens
World-Class Kids Life Coach, Kids Life Studio® and Kids Life Coach Academy Founder
It happens everyday inside and outside the classroom, where children label themselves as: not fitting in, feeling a failure, being stupid, being different, worthless. These children didn’t get to this thought space on their own. Somebody or something has reinforced their perceptions of their inabilities rather than their abilities. They have come to believe this as their truth and this leaves them vulnerable to life’s natural ebb and flow of stress that is part of life.
Then we have the children who feel accepted, likeable, confident. They can solve problems and overcome challenges. They are the ones who are optimistic and put a smile on their face even when they have the right to cry. What is it that makes these children able to deal with life positively and evade the feelings of worthlessness that have come to surround other children who have faced challenges and have been unable to surmount them?
Many would sum this up by saying that these children have learnt to thrive because they have the skills for being resilient. So where did these skills come from? It is almost like what came first, the chicken or the egg? Did these children experience adversity first to build their resilience, or did they have the resilience to deal with adversity.
According to to the author of Resilience Coaching, Dr. Carole Pembleton, resilience is the ability to remain flexible in our thoughts, feelings and behaviours when faced by a life disruption or extended periods of pressure, so that we can emerge from difficulty stronger, wiser and more able. She terms it “working with the wobble and fall.”
In the context of children who have been knocked down by life and have been unable to stand up again, perhaps a “Resilience Rebrand” is necessary. Rather than focus on building resilience, let’s focus on supporting them to rewrite their story and deal with the wobble and fall. Salman Rushdie said: “Those who do not have power over their story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, to rethink it, to deconstruct it, joke about it and change it as times change, truly are powerless.”
Building Resilience in childhood, is a personal journey, but one which doesn’t have to be traveled alone. One of the prevailing themes in all Resilience Research is the notion of support. Although some children are born genetically with a higher stress tolerance, all children are the same when it comes to overcoming stress. They all need a support system in place that reassures them on a consistent basis that stress is an important tool that helps them grow and learn and ultimately gives them the power to deal with whatever life throws their way. Coaching children to rethink stress by choosing what they can do about it, can massively affect whether a stressful event has a positive or negative impact. To do this, they need to know that they are accepted and loved according to their abilities and not their disabilities.
Paediatrician, Kenneth Ginsberg in his book on building Resilience in Children and Teens, has identified that Resilience is not a one part entity. According to him, we need to support children in building the 7 C’s which are: Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character, Contribution, Coping, Control. This is an interesting combination that makes sense, but we have to acknowledge that perhaps there are two key areas that seem to visibly stand out as slightly more important than the rest – Confidence and Coping. This applies especially in the context of how a child deals with challenges associated with their social, emotional and behavioural problems.
Let’s take a look at an example. Frank is a 9-year old boy who has been diagnosed with ADHD. When he is excessively stressed, he is livelier than normal and leans towards uncontrollable behaviour that is disruptive and dangerous to his classmates. He is appropriately disciplined for his behaviour but at these times of stress, he becomes tearful and withdrawn and exhibits behaviour that is the polar opposite of being ADHD. If we were to apply this formula to Frank, we would first want to look at finding his ‘competence’ rather than focusing on filling in the gaps of his “incompetence” which in this case would be the inability to stay focused in the classroom which is impacted because of the stress he is dealing with. This is easier said than done in a classroom full of children with diverse needs of their own and only one teacher to meet them. So this is where coaching Frank to cope comes in. This has nothing to do with Resilience, but it is about providing him with a toolbox of skills that he can use in dealing with the stressful circumstances surrounding his life.
A toolbox for coping with stress, shouldn’t only be to build resilience, but rather to encourage a love for lifelong learning. Instilling the notion in children that as much as adults would love to, we can’t wrap them up in cotton wool to prevent the world from hurting them.
They have to deal with the fact that the world is constantly changing and that it can be a scary place. They need to learn that other children may always seem to be more “normal” than they are when they compare themselves. What they need is the ability to coach themselves to embrace their differences, learn from inevitable mistakes, turn challenges into opportunities and most of all to keep their head held up high no matter how hard this may sometimes be.
No matter their circumstances, background or abilities enabling children to cope with life is the best gift we can give them. “Rebranding Resilience” is about giving a child the ability to remove a self imposed label or one that has been given to them. Stepping out of the fictional power that they have associated with their inadequacies and differences and rewriting their story to create an inspired life. This is not limited to age, race, gender, culture, language or demographic or anything else, but rather this is about being united in the core concept that adversity is part of who we are and it is what makes us become better at who we are. The duration, the context, the severity of adversity may differ from child to child, but if we coach them in those times through giving them unconditional support, the leaning curve will be that much more effective. If we can leave children equipped to love and be kind to themselves no matter what, they will shift from being victims to loving life and the lessons it has to offer.
As a South African, I tend to lean towards the teachings of Nelson Mandela who said: “I am the master of my fate and the captain of my destiny.” This is the key to living a childhood of peace that is found by embedding an “I can” attitude in the heart and the mind that inspires children to strive for a purpose greater than themselves based on the challenges they have had to surmount.
Dweck, C. (2012) Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential.
Ginsburg, K (2011) Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings
Grotberg, E. (1995). ‘A Guide to Promoting Resilience in Children: Strengthening the Human Spirit.’
Masten, A. (2001). ‘Ordinary Magic: Resilience Processes in Development.’
Pembleton, C. (2015) Reslience: A Practical Guide for Coaches
Tough, P. (2014) How Children Succeed.
Werner, E. & Smith, R. (2001) Journeys from Childhood to Midlife. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
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