“The Ordinary Magic of Resilience”


Fall seven times, Stand up eight.
                        -Japanese proverb
 

No teacher wants to see her students struggle. But you’re making a mistake if you see struggling as a “bad” thing, or if you think adversity is to be avoided at all cost.

This is important to remember if you are a parent who has just heard a diagnosis of ADHD or any other characteristic in their child, or if you’re a teacher who is feeling sorry for or frustrated by a struggling student.

Adversity is not something to be shunned, pitied or denied.

Adversity is power.

Football coach Lou Holtz once said, “Show me someone who has done something worthwhile, and I'll show you someone who has overcome adversity.”

I have lived this truism myself, which is one reason I have made this such a mission. I field calls periodically from parents who are beside themselves with anxiety because their child just received a diagnosis of ADHD, or because they’re getting phone calls from their child’s school.

They’re understandably upset. They begin harboring worst-case scenarios for their child. And they don’t like the feeling of not being in control of what might happen next.

These are natural reactions, but the first thing I always tell parents in this situation is to R-E-L-A-X and take a deep breath.

It’s never as bad as you think.

If you could have seen the worry etched on my mom’s face whenever she received a phone call about me, you never would have believed that this rowdy, distractible tornado of energy would have amounted to ANYthing.

But as it turned out, I not only graduated high school, I went on to get a college degree, a master’s degree, and ended up as an adjunct professor, behavior specialist and author.

Not bad for a kid who couldn’t sit still for more than 15 minutes and got into more than his share of trouble!

Just as a stone is needed to sharpen a knife, so adversity helped sharpen my skills, desire and motivation to succeed. Yes, the road was not without potholes, but I honestly don’t know if I would have succeeded half as much if I hadn’t had those hurdles to jump.

This is part of the paradigm shift you must make in order to teach kids one of the most valuable life skills available: resilience.

Child psychologist Ann Masten, of the University of Minnesota, calls resilience “ordinary magic.” She says, “Resilience does not come from rare and special qualities, but from the everyday magic of ordinary human resources in the minds, brains and bodies of ordinary children, in their families and relationships, and in their communities.”

Can resilience be taught?
The answer appears to be yes . . .

For 12 weeks in 1990, psychology students at the University of Pennsylvania taught a group of 70 children ages 6 to 12 how to reframe pessimistic or habitually negative assumptions.

All of these students were at risk for depression because of problems at home. Two years after the researchers taught the kids to tell the difference between productive and self-defeating thinking, they found that only 22% of the children in the program still felt depressed, compared to 44% of kids from similar backgrounds in a control group.

You might be curious how they taught these critical skills. The researchers simply used the story of “The Little Engine That Could” to demonstrate the importance of a positive attitude, and they used “Chicken Little” to illustrate the dangers of catastrophic thinking.

Researchers then told the kids to look at their own fears and ask, "What's the worst that can happen?" and "How likely is it that this will pan out?" In other words, the kids were testing their own expectations to see if they were realistic.

The children also learned the basic skills of problem-solving by analyzing a difficult situation, then making a list of options and alternatives.

The program, by the way, was so successful that it has been repeated in many other schools and continues to be studied. This should be encouraging news to any teacher or parent who is facing the challenge of helping any child who swims upstream.

It’s been said that there is no education like the university of adversity. Teach proudly in that institution and show your kids that obstacles truly ARE the stepping stones to success.

Of course, if you have not developed a good and sincere relationship with your students, then your efforts to encourage students to "stick it out" will fall flat.  They will tune you out.  They'll find excuses to throw in the towel, or they will demean the assignments by saying the work is "stupid" or that "I'll never need that later in life."

On the other hand, once you forge a bond of respect and likeability, then even your most problematic students will want to try harder.  We all reach higher when we're trying to please someone we respect and admire.

My special training package for teachers helps you become that teacher.  Rather than trying to shoehorn you into being some sort of mythical "perfect teacher" that doesn't exist, it lets you take advantage of the natural talents and interests you already have to become the inspiring leader your students crave.  Click here to learn more about my teacher training program.