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  • Writer's pictureLiz Gardner

Cultivating Resilience in our Children

Updated: Feb 7, 2020

For parents, teachers, and anyone working with adolescents today, one of the most important things we can do is help them learn how to navigate the ever-shifting landscape of possibility — and unpredictability — with confidence and ease. The world moves swiftly, after all, and the younger generation will need to keep adapting with perseverance and grit. However difficult it can be to watch at times, we want them to be able to take risks, make their own decisions — no matter how disastrous — and own the path they create for themselves. The world in turn needs them to be socially creative and adaptable, to be able to flip and switch, shift and pivot — changing directions and finding new ways around and through. To keep moving, changing, and growing requires them to be resilient, and optimistic, which, in a world that threatens every day to beat that out of them but demands it just the same, can seem the ultimate act of rebellion.

There are wonderful examples of adaptability in the natural world around us — if we just take the time to notice. Small children quite often have eyes for the tiniest of things happening just out of adult-sight. Spending time with children, particularly young children, can often feel like being in an expanded universe — the way their attention drifts to so many different things that we simply miss most of the time. Fresh eyes! Adolescents sometimes have to work at recapturing and practicing that ability to slow down and take notice of their immediate surroundings, tuck into the small details, and tap into that sense of wonder. But there, in those unhurried spaces, when exploring the natural landscape, both inside and out, resilience can often be found, engendering surety, strength, comfort, confidence, and creativity.

The poet Jane Hirshfield, in her poem Optimism, below, lovingly admires and unpacks nature's resilience, in the way it keeps changing, tries out new ways, trusts that it'll find a way. Such good inspiration for all of us. For teenagers, the ability to imagine and re-imagine the possibilities and see the world in all its spaciousness, and the willingness to go off map to discover new ideas will indeed generate the very best kind of growth — not to "return over and over to the same shape" with every challenge, but to keeping changing, reshaping the path, and mimicking the "sinuous tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side, it turns in another." Learning how to open the map of their life to see more than one path at a time is a wonderful, important tool to have at the ready — especially during the college process, when students often feel as if there is just one right path for them, and can feel thwarted at every turn. The demands of expectation can so often undermine the benefits of the journey. Ack. So many contradictions, mixed messages.

How do we allow for the journey to take place, to be their own? How can we let go, trust that our child is exactly where they should be? How can we model tenacity in our own lives, while also creating spaces for our children to truly explore their worlds, take their own chances, experience failure — and the ensuing, often triumphant recalibrations? How do we empower our children to create patterns of wonder and possibility for themselves? How can we ensure that our children are often enough released from the usual corrugated time and demands of expectation so that they can lose themselves in the "resinous, unretractable earth" of their own underworlds, gain insight into who they are and how they want to be in the world, and find, at their core, a wellspring of optimism and resilience? Allowing our children their own gradual unfolding of self and story and strength — especially in the face of adversity — is one of the best gifts we can give them.

OPTIMISM by Jane Hirshfield

More and more I have come to admire resilience. Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side, it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true. But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers, mitochondria, figs — all this resinous, unretractable earth.

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