On their own two feet
Whether you are a teacher or a parent, wanting to help or protect the children for whom you are responsible is natural. But there are limits, says Nicola Pearson.
What we can’t do
Whether we’re parents, educators or both, we want our children to succeed and be happy, create a life of their choosing and be the best version of themselves. We’re always looking for ways to help. But there’s one thing we can’t do. We cannot remain constantly by their side, protecting them when they need protecting or be their cheerleader when they need the motivation to persevere. I remember feeling terrified of this when my daughter started school. Suddenly, I was no longer her sole protector, but we also know the realities of life; how harsh kids can be to each other and how life can throw curve balls that hurt!
What we can do
However, I realised early on, that there was something truly powerful I could give my daughter, which would mean I wouldn’t need to be there to fight her corner when someone was mean at school or just keep her going – the tools and strategies to be resilient, so she’d learn to thrive and succeed on her own. Having high levels of resilience isn’t a biological gift. It’s a life skill that needs to be learnt and one that’s crucial for children’s well-being. To be able to bounce back from set-backs and obstacles and not be too badly affected. If we’re crushed by life’s obstacles and set-backs, or it takes a significant amount of time to rebound, our mental health is going to suffer.
Resilience for learning
Moreover, it’s fundamental if children are going to be successful learners. Parents and educators can only take them so far. The kind of progress and achievements that are made by being able to push through boundaries, explore potential, take appropriate risks and embrace failure; are ultimately skills that children need to acquire and be motivated to use.
We only have to look at people who have changed our world for the better. They didn’t give up at the first hurdle, but failed multiple times and persevered, even if the prospect of achieving seemed remote. Many of them also pushed the boundaries of what appeared impossible. They thought of unconventional ways to reach their goal and reached it, despite what others thought or what obstacles got in their way.
Not all children are going to go on to change the world, and nor do they need to. But surely every child deserves to be given the tools and guidance to build high levels of resilience, so they can truly fulfil their potential.
You can’t teach it, but . . .
Unlike subjects at school, resilience isn’t something we teach as such. Rather, we model, guide and show our children how to be resilient. We work on their mindset; how they see the world and how they approach and respond to problems. It involves encouraging them towards a growth mindset, providing the freedom and self-confidence to grow as individuals and reach their desired goals.
Kintsugi and embracing imperfection
A beautiful way of showing an important aspect of resilience is through the 500-year-old Japanese art form of mending pottery, called Kintsugi. The broken pieces are put back together using lacquer, mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum. The philosophy behind this art form embraces things which are imperfect and values the flaws rather than viewing them negatively. Turning the cracks into gold celebrates imperfection. This serves as a great metaphor for resilience.
We’re living in a digital age that’s seeing increasing numbers of children place pressure on themselves to be perfect. They’re afraid to make mistakes, afraid to fail. As a result, they shy away from doing things differently in case they don’t succeed. This kind of outlook and self-imposed pressure hinder the kind of in-depth learning that comes from exploration, taking risks, embracing failure and taking different paths to achieve a goal. Like the philosophy behind Kintsugi, children need to know that imperfection is not only OK but key in allowing them to truly explore their own potential and grow exponentially, both academically and as a person.
The difference it makes
Imagine if all children were given the tools and guidance to build their resilience in this way? Where they had the self-confidence and motivation to persevere and not only bounce back from hurdles but bounce back stronger? Where a growth mindset allowed them to be free from limiting beliefs about their own ability?
To raise resilient children is an on-going task for both parents and educators. It requires commitment and perseverance throughout a child’s life. But when we look at the tremendous benefits, along with a rapidly changing world that’s demanding us to be increasingly resilient; it’s not only a task worth taking on but surely one that every child deserves?
Nicola Pearson is an education consultant, author, writer and parent. She has worked in education for over 20 years, including Central America, South East Asia and her home country, the UK.