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.