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The Bounce-Back Factor: How Kids Learn Resilience

As parents and educators, we should never underestimate the gift of failure.

I am sure you can recall a time when your child came home feeling disappointed. Perhaps they didn’t make it onto a sports team or they received a lower-than-expected grade. You, as the parent, probably felt a mix of emotions; this is natural, since we all want to protect our children from harm and to remove obstacles that might cause them to stumble.

Yet research has shown that when faced with unexpected circumstances – the bumps in the road – children develop life-affirming skills that equip them to thrive and flourish. This reality was acknowledged over 100 years ago by African American educator Booker T. Washington when he said, “I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles overcome while trying to succeed.”

This empowering attitude embodies the essence of resilience. Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell confirms in her article in Psychology Today that “research has established resilience as essential for human thriving, an ability necessary for the development of healthy, adaptable young people.”

Dr. Price-Mitchell explains that resilient people adopt a positive mindset: they view challenges as a critical part of achieving success. They develop the ability to focus on those things they can control and commit to their goals, without blaming themselves for disappointments. It is their strong sense of self that fosters a “can-do” attitude with no place for self-deprecation. They commit to their goals and are able to recover from setbacks that may knock others off track.

These are children who have developed resilience – the bounce-back factor.

The determination and perseverance to overcome adversity is what constitutes “grit,” a character trait identified by US psychologist Angela Duckworth as a predictor of future success. So important is this value that, at Bialik, we include “grit” as one of the cornerstone traits of our SAGE approach to character building – Self & Social Awareness, Grit and Empathy.

How do we empower our children to believe they can navigate disappointment and use it as an opportunity to grow?

  • Develop positive attitudes: Children feel validated when they can safely acknowledge their feelings and create a plan for moving forward that focuses on next steps. Here’s a great example: “This is disappointing because I tried so hard and really wanted to be on the team, but I know I am a good soccer player. I’ve got what it takes and I’ll get there with more practice.”  Redirecting disappointment with a positive plan provides children a sense of control.
  • Validate: When we, the adults, validate our children’s emerging resilience by noticing and describing their hard work and thoughtful actions, we empower them with the security of knowing they have a robust support system. In promoting their ability to problem-solve, we foster our children’s sense of personal strength.
  • Share personal stories: Another strategy for parents is to share our own stories that led to growth. We can share our strategies for learning, facing a struggle and succeeding.
  • Build resilience within the school community: Surrounded by nurturing and supportive adults, students and student communities can gain life-changing experiences and build their belief in their own capacity to overcome adversity. A belief that anything is possible – and that you learn through your struggles and failures – nurtures self-esteem and sets students, both collectively and individually, on the path towards healthy living.

Each time our children navigate tough or unexpected situations, they increase their reserves of resilience and learn to keep going, regardless. In the words of the great statesman, Nelson Mandela: “Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

As we direct our energy towards helping our children develop resilience, the opportunity to fail is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.

Beverley Young
Himel Branch Principal