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Letting go of the fixation on ‘building children’s resilience’.

Updated: Dec 4, 2021

Resilience, definition: ‘The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness” To “spring back into shape”.

Think about a time when you felt most resilient. Why was that? I imagine it might have been because you had the emotional ability and stability required at that time to manage the rollercoaster of emotions that surfaced, AND how to keep pushing through despite that. I also imagine you had people supporting you. People there to help you in those tough moments, to untangle any fall backs and to help pick you back up when you had doubts or felt overwhelmed.

Maybe you don’t consider yourself resilient. Why is that? How do you feel about it? Do you perceive that as a bad thing? I wonder why?

We STILL have an embedded culture of stiff upper lip. Keep calm and carry on. To be seen and not heard.

"Don’t cry".

And the preoccupation on resilience is not helping move things on.

Hear me out.

First of all resilience is not a final destination. It is a concept. An idea. It means different things to different people. So we cannot ‘get’ people to ‘be resilient’. Everyone has a different starting point for starters. A child who has experienced trauma, a child who is autistic, a naturally more sensitive child - will all have a different starting point to a child who has experienced none of these things and is less impacted by their environment. These children are not less than. If we put resilience at the heart of things, we ignore the real needs and strengths of these children. A sensitive child has qualities that should be celebrated just as much as the more resilient child. We must acknowledge that and not try to enforce toughness and hardiness on children who need compassion first.

Is the preoccupation on ‘resilience’ just a watered-down version of ‘keep calm and carry on’? It has the same ideas at the essence. It still places questions at the centre of importance such as ‘How can we make children toughen up?’ ‘How can we get children to be quiet? 'How do we stop their big feelings?’. ‘How do we teach children (babies!) to ‘self-sooth’. ‘How do we make children happy at all costs?’.

These ideas have done us humans absolutely no good over the last few generations.

We have to stop being so bloody scared of big, ‘bad’ feelings and embrace them.

The fear and aversion we have means that we are missing out a whole, very important foundational stage that comes way before being resilient.

So what do we need to do instead?

We need to put all the focus on how we teach children to FEEL things. To accept ALL of the emotions. Teach children to know what those feeling are, what they mean, how to notice them before they become all-consuming and how to manage them. To ensure the child feels loved and seen and supported. And naturally THIS will lead to children being able to face situations in life more easily (e.g with resilience) but from their own starting point, in their own way.

We will start to celebrate those who feel things deeply instead of being put off by that.

  • Children will grow in to adults able to express themselves fully.

  • No keeping things hidden until it destroys their mental or physical health.

  • No martyrdom.

  • No competitive work culture that celebrates those who keep pushing at the expense of their mental and physical wellbeing.

  • No hiding who they truly are.

I’ll ask these questions again - Think back to the time you felt most resilient. Was it healthy? Maybe you don’t consider yourself resilient. Why is that? How do you feel about it? Do you perceive not being resilient as a bad thing?

A final thought...

I would argue that many of today's adults also need to build their emotional intelligence. The effects of the keep calm and carry on culture has done us no good. It has left many adults feeling emotionally stunted, depressed, and unable to communicate their feelings until it makes them ill.

It starts with us.

We have to get better at looking inwards.

We need to be better at supporting children emotionally from a young age.

We need to raise the next generation with mental health in mind.

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