The strongest oak of the forest is
Not the one that is protected from
The storm and hidden from the sun.
It’s the one that stands in the open
Where it is compelled to struggle
For its existence against the winds
And rains and the scorching sun.
After presenting reACT to Bullying to more than 200 schools and 250,000 people, I’ve observed a very acute need throughout – developing resilience. Specifically, many students who suffer long-term effects of bullying find it difficult to find the capacity to recover quickly from the challenges they face. In a worst-case scenario, an individual who lacks resilience may even harm themselves or others.
What is Resilience?
When adversity comes into our lives, how do we cope? It’s no secret that some individuals bounce back from difficulties more quickly. Others, it seems, get stuck in a pattern of stress and negativity. The coping mechanism that allows us to move on from negative events is resilience.
All of us have a capacity for resilience. Still, some people seem to recover from hardship with very little effort, while others struggle to maintain a positive outlook. What’s the difference? Temperament plays a role, to be sure. But, like a sense of humor, resilience is a trait that can be developed. How do we help vulnerable students to develop resilience?
Building resilience is an internal process, but one that might need a little help and guidance from teachers and parents. Just as we teach kindness and compassion, we can also teach resilience.
A common response I hear when a student shares with an adult that they have been bullied is, “That’s going to happen” or, “You know how (insert grade level and gender here) are.” Statements like these don’t acknowledge what has happened, how it has affected the student, or the difficult step of reaching out to an adult. It’s difficult for a young person to develop resilience if their concerns are dismissed by the adult they confide in. Approach this disclosure with understanding. A sentence which sounds something like, “I’m sorry that’s happened” or, “That must have been pretty upsetting” is a great first step.
Give an Example
First and foremost, whether we are a child’s parent, grandparent, teacher, or principal, we must realize students observe our own resilience skills more closely than we might think. This is an opportunity for adults to demonstrate a positive outlook and a long-term perspective. If you can’t demonstrate the trait in real time, you can tell them of a time where you had to bounce back from a tough challenge. Modeling an example of a person with resilience will help students to see what this trait looks like in action.
In the specific instance of bullying, it always helps to give a student an understanding of what bullying is and what it isn’t. Challenging circumstances can be cut down to size by looking at them through an unemotional and factual lens. Students can develop this skill with your help. Generally, an exercise where you help a student list all of their unique abilities and traits is a great place to start to build a positive outlook and inspire empowerment. Better yet, get them started and encourage them to add to the list!
An upsetting event often feels like a permanent shift in reality. Many of us default to thinking that such situations will last. This is a perfect time to recall a moment in which they were faced with daunting circumstances and came out on the other side. Such an exercise can help reinforce their own ability to bounce back as well as the concept of many events being only temporary. Finally, take the opportunity to acknowledge their growth.
Never underestimate the courage it takes for a student of any age to ask for help. Make clear to them that you will be a part of this journey. Remind them about their inner circle – the people surrounding them who have a vested interest in their lives. Reassure them of their support system.
As adults, we have a great deal of perspective and life experience. We know that life will consistently test our capacity for resilience. We would be wise to prepare students to face these coming challenges, as well. Thankfully, we can teach resilience. What a valuable gift to give to our young people!