By Barbara Gruener
Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.
Perhaps you’ve seen the graphic that shows a straight line pointing up that reads, “What I planned.” Adjacent to the linear forward progress is a squiggly mess of scribble scrabble headed in all directions with a caption that reads something like this: “What actually happened.”
That picture of the detour life took for its creator was designed to make us laugh, in part because we can all relate. Laughter is a resilience skill because it helps us take a not-so-serious look at—and bounce back from—the curve balls that life will throw at us. The ability to laugh at unexpected twists and turns can help students move forward through adversity more easily.
How else can we help build our students’ capacity to recover from bumps in the road and thrive despite those obstacles? Let’s look at a few things that resilient students need.
- A Growth Mindset
It is imperative that children know mistakes are okay. Wait, no: better than okay. Mistakes are a valuable part of the learning process. Mistakes are opportunities to grow. Students have to believe that they have what it takes to rebound when mistakes happen. We must get rid of old sayings like, “Don’t make the same mistake twice,” or, “Practice makes perfect.” There is no such thing as perfection. The more deeply a child understands, embraces, and believes that, the more able he or she will be to bounce back from mistakes, disappointments, and setbacks. Share The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires to let your children experience the resiliency of the story’s narrator when her fixed mindset threatens to blow her project plans (and her day) apart. Or, read Penelope Perfect for an example of how even when things don’t go the way you planned, the day can still turn out great.
A second bounce-back strategy involves actively teaching our young people that they always have a choice about how they perceive problems and react to roadblocks. Consider this maxim, attributed to Japanese writer Haruki Murakami: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Ask your students what they think this means. Find out if they believe it to be true. Then, connect it to the idea of resilience. How much more quickly might children adapt and recover if they were empowered with these thoughts about choice? Share a film clip about someone who has overcome incredible odds and shown amazing resilience like Nick Vujicic, Heather Dorniden, Kyle Maynard, or Charlotte Brown. Which traits do all of these ordinary people share?
- A Positive Attitude
Our resilience also has a lot to do with the people around us. Are your students choosing optimistic friends who lift them up, or do they hang with people who choose to find fault with most everything? In her handbook Balcony People, author Joyce Landorf Heatherley puts people into two categories: balcony people, who are up in the balcony and cheering us on, and basement people, who would rather we join them in their dark, damp environment. Talk with your students about these two attitude options and brainstorm the advantages and disadvantages to each. Then, find out which type of person they think might do a better job at jumping over life’s highest hurdles. Motivational expert Zig Ziglar was on target when he said, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.”
Because we get more of what we focus on, when we focus on being grateful, even during tough times, we start to find the blessings in our burdens. Challenge your students to always look for a silver lining. What can they express thanks about, even when they stumble and fall down? Let’s take the example of the child who breaks her leg and is wheelchair-bound for six to eight weeks. She may initially think she can’t possibly mine gratitude from that dark place. But, when she returns to school to find her classmates clamoring for the opportunity to help her get from place to place, she may change her mind. Focusing on the kindness of her school family rather than the seemingly endless road to recovery may help speed up her healing. Robert Emmons’ research suggests that gratitude and overall positive emotions can add seven years to your life. Encouraging your students to look at their situation differently the next time they’re going through a rough patch can help them bounce forward into their new normal more gracefully.
- A Helping Heart
It might seem counterintuitive, but another building block toward resilience in students is finding a situation or person who needs their help. When their focus is taken off their own trials and shifted onto someone else’s needs, children become supercharged and find restorative strength from coming to the rescue. Who is it that could use their help? Let them find a charitable cause and watch it cure their own aches and pains.
Sometimes students get stuck and lose hope that things will get better, that they will ever bounce back, that they will ever be okay. When that happens, students need to believe that this too shall pass. They need to know that they will make it through. The acrostic for HOPE—Hang On, Pain Ends—ought to be posted where all students can see it. Who are the people who can remind them to hang on, that it will get better, and that it’s worth it? Encourage your students to name three people (preferably from three different age groups) who they can call on when a setback has them starting to feel helpless or hopeless. As always, consult a professional counselor if those feelings become overwhelming and threaten their mental health, safety, or emotional well-being.
Currently in her 32nd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.
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Bounce Back! A book about resilience by Cheri J. Meiners can help jumpstart the conversation with your youngest learners about moving through tough times and coming out the other side cheerful and recharged.