Bouncing Back

Posted on: April 24th, 2012 by Kay Swatkowski

Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.
-George S. Patton

Happiness is not the absence of problems but the ability to deal with them.

- H. Jackson Brown

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

-James 1: 2,3

Resiliency is the ability to face and overcome adversity with hope and optimism.  The world is filled with resilient people.

The stories of resilient Jewish children who were hidden during the Holocaust by non-Jews are chronicled in Hidden From The Holocaust by Kerry Bluglass.  From a psychiatric viewpoint, this book seeks to uncover what characteristics or nurturing experiences allows a child to not only survive but thrive following horrific life experiences.

Other children have experienced abuse, neglect or trauma that could have predicted a dire, abusive future for them.  Some have been denied access to educational and cultural experiences we deem necessary for success. Instead of living out the expected bleak future,  many of these children  have gone on to be caring, compassionate, successful and optimistic adults.

These children are resilient–they have the ability to bounce back in a wonderful way.

Other children who have experienced hardship and even many raised in nurturing, perhaps, even prosperous homes go on to be brittle. They crack under life’s pressure and seem to have no ability to bounce back.

What is the secret to raising resilient kids?  No one knows for sure.  Here are some thoughts to consider.

  1. The presence of one hopeful, nurturing adult at a point of crisis or a specific time in childhood development increases resiliency.  Many of the children interviewed in studies on resiliency not only retell of the difficult circumstances of their lives but also the memory of an adult who left them with the feeling that they were valuable or that there was hope for their future.  Sometimes, this contact was fleeting, but was present at just the right moment in the child’s life and development to instill a sense that they would someday “bounce back.”  My own childhood home was plagued with parental alcoholism and mental illness.  Sad and stressful days were the norm.  However, the memory of my grandfather’s love and acceptance always gave me hope.  A couple of years after he passed away, one of grandpa’s former co-workers stood with me under a shady maple tree in grandmother’s yard  and told me, ‘You know your grandpa really loved you.”  That statement not only comforted me, but gave me hope and enabled me to move forward in life.
  2. A thought process that views life in a healthy perspective is essential for resiliency.  Any thoughts that reinforce the belief that the child is a victim, life is unfair, someone else is to blame  will keep a child from bouncing back.  These beliefs are part of the culture of many families and can easily be corrected with good and accurate thinking.  Teaching children to reject the victim mentality, to understand that they can take ownership of their own future and that they are not being singled out for unfair treatment will help them nurture resiliency. Children need to learn this truth: “Life is difficult but good.”
  3. A skill or activity that the child loves and enjoys has helped many resilient children and adolescents.   Having  used art or writing as a way of expressing themselves prior to the life stress or difficulty  has later  helped many children process grief and loss.  Reading and identifying with characters who have endured difficulties is another great way to build resiliency. Enjoying athletic pursuits, being physically talented has provided internal motivation for others and allowed them to take ownership of their own future.
  4. Experiencing pain in childhood is absolutely essential to developing resiliency. Unfortunately, most of us do whatever we can to shield kids from the normal pain of life.  We want them to practice their math skills.  We want them to practice the piano.  We want them to practice ballet.  We want them to practice their batting. We want them to practice their manners.  But, we don’t want them to practice overcoming difficulties.  We can, with the best of intentions, prevent our children from developing the skills of overcoming adversity that they will need later in life.  Yes, we should protect them from dangerous bullies.  No, we shouldn’t get involved in every childhood squabble.  Yes, we should intervene at school when teaching techniques or curriculum is counter productive for our child.  No, we shouldn’t investigate every low grade they receive.  Yes, we should sit with them in their losses in sports, music or other activities.  No, we shouldn’t let them wallow or see the loss as the end of the road. And, NO, we shouldn’t suggest that their loss was someone else’s fault or that they had been singled out for unfair treatment.  That does not comfort. It only deepens the sense of loss. It sends the message that the child is a helpless victim. The priority is teaching them they can bounce back – even when they hit bottom.
  5. Faith builds resiliency.  I have a saying that I believe is true.  It is faith that gets us through the hard times. Knowing that God is present in our lives, that He walks before us and beside us provides inner strength and peace that nurtures resiliency.  Psalm 23 reminds me that my resiliency comes from knowing my Shepherd is caring for me. Our children need to see by our example that God can get us through the hard times.

We have an opportunity to help our children “practice” resiliency every day.  With kindness, compassion and comfort we can help them understand some of life’s struggles are normal and to be expected. We can also let them know that we believe they have the internal resources to make the best of even hard situations.  We know they can bounce back.

Heavenly Father,

You have created men and women, boys and girls with the ability to be resilient.  We thank you that at our very core, we have the capacity to see life as you see it and to have hope for the future. Lord, if I could, you know I would save my children and grandchildren from all of life’s pain.  In the end that would be a great disservice to them.  I realize that they each need to develop the inner strength to withstand whatever life brings.  Lord, may our children and grandchildren become resilient and not brittle.  May they not see themselves as victims of life’s disappointments, but as recipients of your love and care. Help them to resist the temptation to blame others, but instead to take responsibility for their own precious life.  May they find strength in their relationship with you and the knowledge that you will care for and lead them all the way home.


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2 Responses

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