RESILIENCE a critical life skill


As part of Children’s Mental Health week, CEO of Freedom From Abuse, Marilyn Hawes examines what lockdown has done to the mental health of children and examines the role of resilience.

What is Resilience?

The patron of Freedom From Abuse, Stephen Endelman, said “Resilience is the ability to survive and thrive in hostile situations whatever or whoever it may be.” Every week I hear of remarkable people who have withstood the most hideous abuse and yet have overturned their past and gone on to extraordinary success, refusing to be a victim.

Sadly, the incidences of abuse on children during the COVID-19 lockdown has skyrocketed and we will not know the full extent of it for many years.

It isn’t  helpful to just say “today’s children will have mental health issues tomorrow.”  Whilst this may well be true, I remain unconvinced that this is a healthy or helpful message. It allows youngsters to fall into a negative mindset.

Failing and falling is not the issue, what defines us is how we get back up again!

Unless suffering some disability, every toddler has a mission to walk. A toddler falls over time and again but up it gets and sticks with it until its quest is achieved. It never gives up. Somewhere along the road of growing up, some of us lose what is naturally found within. There does appear to be a genetic predisposition for resilience, for instance; but early environments and life circumstances play a role in how resilient genes are ultimately expressed.


Here are some definitions of resilience:

“The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, toughness.”

“Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes.” In a nutshell, resilience can be defined as the ability – and tendency – to “bounce back.”

“People must learn to cope with and work through very challenging life experiences. Resilience theory refers to the ideas surrounding how people are affected by and adapt to things like adversity, change, loss, and risk. Being resilient does not mean that people do not experience stress, emotional upheaval, and suffering. But it does not break them apart.”

“Trauma researchers emphasize the resilience of the human psyche. the ability of a substance to return to its usual shape after being bent, stretched, or pressed.”

Can resilience be taught?

In my experience, as a mother, a grandparent, and a former deputy headteacher, I suggest it can be taught. How many of us in schools see the “helicopter” parent? Always hovering over their child, transferring their own anxieties onto the child. The poor child has no space to fail, fall or engage in critical thinking, this is how they learn about life. They learn to take the rough with the smooth.

Having said that, I do also believe some people are innately born with resilience – a refusal to give in. They pull back, regroup and get back in the game with a new approach. They have the determination to cope and don’t have a victim mentality.

If a parent has made most decisions for a child, when they are of an age to decide for themselves, is it any wonder they are then anxious and stressed?

How to build resilience

Getting through pain and disappointment without letting them become overwhelming is not necessarily easy for anyone, so it is useful to study what more resilient people do to carry on after a death, a job loss, chronic or acute illness, or another setback.

For instance, do you attribute personal and professional setbacks solely to your own inadequacy, or are you able to identify contributing factors, specific and temporary? Do you demand a perfect streak, or are you able to accept that life is a mix of losses and wins? In each case, the latter quality has been tied to greater levels of resilience.

What are strategies for becoming more resilient?

Enough sleep, eating well, and exercising reduces stress, which may, in turn, boost resilience. Similarly, be sure to nurture close relationships it helps an individual find support when trouble arises. Regularly thinking about morals and actively living according to one’s values have been linked to higher resilience.

The role of Optimism

What appears to make a person more resilient, is a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback.

Optimism, for instance, has been shown to help blunt the impact of stress on the mind and body in the wake of disturbing experiences. It enables a cool-headed analysis of what might have gone wrong and consideration of behavioural paths which might be more productive.

Any crisis, such as the coronavirus pandemic, can test resilience. Looking to loved ones for help and emotional support, increasing self-care, and focusing on the aspects of the situation that are under your control can help you weather almost any storm.



Knowing in 2019 the government required schools to embrace a deeper look at RSE within PSHE education, I wrote a course called BEAUTY OR THE BEAST. It fits very well into the requirements and was trialled in schools in Hertfordshire.

The course title and content ask “are you friendly with a real diamond or someone causing harm “this is not about gender, sexuality, transgender, race, culture, religion, it is about living a good life without unrequired emotional pain. A loving friendship / relationship should not hurt, occasionally maybe, but if it is most of the time, then it’s not the right fit for you.

Healthy situations should fit like cosy slippers or shoes. If they pinch you will always suffer corns and blisters !

Our evaluations showed young people felt their PSHE education was too focused on healthy relationships. If a youngster is living in a domestic abuse situation the toxicity becomes normal and is the most repeated abuse later in life. Contrary to this, if a child lives in a happy balanced home environment, how do can they compare a toxic one?

In addition, we experienced teachers asking for advice regarding their personal lives

Following the course, we received many disclosures of teens experiencing issues, also those who were alerted and aware of peers who they could support.  We also explain anyone who is a domestic abuser needs help, it is not just the result of a and day at the office.

Fundamentally there are deep seated issues, many of which go back to their own childhood trauma. However, these days there are plenty of avenues to explore for help

What is concerning is the lack of knowledge they have regarding coercive control. Even friendships can be controlling and jealous. Identifying the component parts of an unhealthy situation is ESSENTIAL in going forward. How to identify a narcissist is crucial, watch them turn their charismatic charm against you in a heartbeat!

When young  it is easy to confuse possessiveness and jealousy ,with caring and being protective , but which is it?

RESILIENCE – is vital but what is it? it is the ability to survive and thrive in any hostile environment wherever and whoever that may be. Some people have inbuilt natural resilience, and some do not, but resilience can, and should, be taught in schools and early parenting classes. It is a necessary life skill.

During lockdowns is a great opportunity giving personal space to review, who is in your life and should they be?


Negative behaviours come from negative roots and can manifest even in Infant school. Ask yourself why is that child controlling and a bully, why is that child overly sexualised, why is that child displaying irrational anger; why is that child verbally offensive, why is that child lacking empathy? having asked the question what will you do if you dislike the answers?

Those who lack the necessary courage to dig down deep for answers and to support, should maybe change their job if involved with children.

1 in 10 girls and 1 in 11 boys experience relationship abuse

It is not unusual to be fearful of ending the friendship due to the perceived backlash


Coercive control is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim. This controlling behaviour is designed to make a person dependent by isolating them from support, exploiting them, depriving them of independence and regulating their everyday behaviour. IT IS AGAINST THE LAW

Gaslighting named after a 1944 film called GASLIGHT, means to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity denying everything they said or did. Typical remarks are you’re crazy that never happened, You’re so sensitive; you’re over reacting, you must be confused again, that’s not right you’re remembering things wrong; I never said that; just calm down; what are you talking about. In the end, and it’s a slow burn, you are nothing more than a puppet

Narcissism many abusers are narcissistic, they are needy, and self-absorbed and insecure which they turn onto their target. Here are some signs:

Lack of empathy

Lack of responsibility or accountability as they can never be wrong, blaming and deflecting

Superior and entitled

Exaggerated need for validation and attention – it is all about THEM

Seeks perfection

Overt need for power and control

Lacks boundaries and invades your privacy – poking into your emails and text messages

Fear of rejection

Anxiety and deeply repressed shame

Unable to show inner vulnerability.  Keeping their vulnerabilities hidden is essential to the narcissist’s pretend self-esteem or false self

Inability to work as a team

So in summary are you with someone who always make you feel you are wrong, someone who easily sulks and keeps it up for days, someone who uses aggressive finger pointing, pushes and shoves a tad too hard? possessive and jealous?

What should you do? – discuss it with the person and watch the reaction.  Leaving it in the hope things will settle down is giving a message “you are OK with it” and in reality things just become worse, so you feel trapped . If they refuse to hear what you are saying then walk away – amputate them from your life rather than drag you down.

Listen to your friends, they may notice something and raise it with you, which you may have denied!

As an animal lover I leave you with these thoughts. Animals teach us unconditional love, loyalty, friendship, and tolerance

“Love of animals is a universal impulse, a common ground on which all of us may meet. By loving and understanding animals, perhaps we humans will come to understand each other “ by Louis J Camuti




Keeping children safe in a pandemic…

Many children and their families are once again facing uncertainty about going back to school after the Christmas holidays. Some will remain shut, some will mix online and classroom learning, with different areas and even individual schools revising their positions again and again. The Northern Ireland Executive has opted to extend their mask mandate to include classrooms as well as in corridors and public areas ( For those who take a broad view of children’s welfare issues, this is concerning. Of course proportionate measures need to be taken to minimise spread of coronavirus, but one wonders if a proper risk assessment has been undertaken on the effects of wearing masks six hours a day, five days a week on children’s physical, mental and emotional well-being.

When you’re, say, 11, you’re developing your skills in reading people’s expressions: when you can trust someone, when you’re being lied to, reading signals, developing instincts. There’s the potential for real harm in disrupting this. What harms will this generation of children suffer in terms of mental and emotional health? Will they be more susceptible to being abused as a result?

The risks should have been properly weighed up: the risk of children widely transmitting coronavirus (which the latest update from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control states is small ( versus the increased risk of harm to children as coronavirus-related interventions continue and deepen (which we know is high

Proportionality is key. It is essential that the broad, long-term risks of harm to children caused by the current coronavirus interventions are not ignored in favour of headline-grabbing statistics. It’s saving up problems for the future.