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Resiliency: Teaching Children How to Cope with Adversity

By Jana Beutler-Holland


"Life is not a matter of holding good cards but of playing a poor hand well." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Resiliency, or the ability to "bounce back" from adversity and challenge, is a trait (or perhaps a skill-set) that I'm sure all of us as counselors, parents, and/or educators, hope to foster in our children, our students, our clients, and even in ourselves. We know that being resilient is necessary in being able to maintain perspective, move forward, and overcome setbacks. Without resiliency, an unfortunate event, accident, or loss can result in giving up, learned helplessness, hopelessness, and a lack of social interest.

Whenever I think of resiliency, I can't help but think about my experiences as a Probation Officer in the Juvenile Court system and the many children I encountered there who lived in unspeakable conditions and in the most dysfunctional of circumstances. Amid the many terribly troubled kids in the system, there were always a rare few who were amazingly resilient, despite their living conditions and familial dysfunction, making me wonder where they got the strength to cope and exist in a world that, to them, must have seemed terribly unfair and difficult.

Just as there are some children from great families who mess up and have to learn many of life's lessons the hard way, there are, too, many children who come from dysfunction and despair, who somehow make it, and somehow survive amazingly well—despite poverty, affliction, criminal families, lack of education, and a lack of social or moral values or role models. I would often wonder, in my years of working with some of the most troubled teens in town, what their secret was. What was it that made it possible for one kid to be capable of coping, overcoming problems, turning his life around, and abiding by societal rules, when another from a similar background just couldn't seem to be able to get it together?

Fortunately, much research has been done on the topic of resiliency, and Tucson is a leader in the Resiliency Movement. The Tucson Resiliency Initiative (TRI) is "a grassroots effort to promote resiliency".

According to "Introduction to Resiliency" by Katie Frey, Ph.D., researchers in this field have identified characteristics common to children who have succeeded "against the odds." These protective factors include many traits that can be developed by using principles that we identify from psychology as being Adlerian in nature, including encouragement, respect, and social interest. In her article, Dr. Frey lists qualities of resilient children as those who are "self-reliant, independent, self-controlled, hopeful, and who have an internal locus of control, and a sense of purpose."

So what can we do to help foster these qualities and create an environment for our children that is condusive to resiliency? To learn resiliency, we can help provide access to resources for meeting basic needs, access to leadership positions, opportunities for decision-making, and meaningful participation in the community. Other suggestions by Dr. Frey include creating an environment where there is unconditional acceptance by at least one other person, having clear and enforced boundaries, encouraging pro-social values, appreciating an individual's unique talents, and creating and maintaining a positive school climate with teachers and positive adults who truly care.

So as the school year begins, and many of us resume (or continue) in our efforts to make the world a more encouraging and resilient place, keep in mind that the single most important thing you can do in the life of a child is to love him or her and present opportunities for growth and resiliency.

For more information on the Resiliency Movement, check out these resources:

www.tucsonresiliency.org
www.raisingresilientkids.com
www.resiliency.com 



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Jana Beutler Holland, M.Ed. is a life coach, therapist, and personal trainer based in Tucson, Arizona. Jana is owner of Life in Motion Coaching, a Life Coaching Company, as well as SWAT Fitness, a personal training company, providing personal fitness training in Tucson and online, as well as offering several other fitness programs to help clients lose weight, improve their health and fitness levels, and live happier, healthier lives.



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