Resiliency refers to the capacity of human beings to survive and thrive in the face of adversity. Resiliency research has taught us how to help children in adverse circumstances to overcome the odds and grow up to become healthy and productive citizens. According to Grotberg (2005), if a child has plenty of self-esteem (I AM), but lacks anyone whom they can turn to for support (I HAVE), and does not have the capacity to solve problems (I CAN), they will not be resilient.
We know that some children are naturally born with an innate resiliency, but we also know that resiliency can be taught – I CAN, I HAVE. One of the main characteristics of resilient kids is they view problems as things to solve, rather than something to be overwhelmed by. They are also kids who deal very effectively with mistakes. If mistakes happen, what they basically feel is, “I have the ability to deal with these mistakes.” When we allow children to be children, they learn to make mistakes, and then they learn to problem solve. Unless it is a safety concern, and if we step back, most kids can prove to themselves and adults that they are resilient and can problem-solve. Too often though, when parents intervene in the mistake, there can be blame and fault involved, or a learned helplessness, which can thwart the learning process, leaving some children to believe they do not have the ability to solve their problems. Becoming resilient may have much to do with teaching the problem solving process to children.
Children who are old enough to think abstractly (from around 12) can be taught the problem solving process directly, using real-life examples and ‘live applications’ to illustrate the process. Younger children will learn best by having the process demonstrated repeatedly by adults to help them solve their day-to-day social and other problems. As adults and parents, our responsibility lies in positive and healthy modeling.
In demonstrating problem-solving, adults can encourage children to generate their own solutions rather than imposing their own ‘best solution’, however obvious it may appear to the adult. This allows children to practice thinking creatively about solutions to their problems rather than relying on adults to be there to sort everything out.
It is essential that parents are good with their problem solving abilities, to model prioritizing and decision making, and also know when, how and if to intervene. Helping children to develop problem-solving skills by assisting them to solve their own problems is the key rather than stepping in with your own solutions.
So how do we as adults model and teach healthy problem solving?
Problem solving can be broken down into 4 steps:
1.Identify the problem
This step may sound obvious, but sometimes identifying the problem can be more difficult than it appears. Once the problem is clearly identified, this often goes more than half-way to solving it. Identifying the problem means clearly working out what one’s goal is, and what is currently preventing one from achieving this outcome.
The key at this stage of the process is not to be overly critical or evaluative of the solutions generated, but to simply think of as many different ways of solving or addressing the problem as possible. This is like a ‘brain-storm’. You get more creative solutions if you feel free to table anything.
3.Evaluate solutions and choose the best one to act on
Having generated a list of possible approaches to dealing with the problem, it is now necessary to evaluate each of the options and decide which is the preferred approach, taking into consideration everything that might be relevant to the decision. One’s knowledge is rarely perfect, so this is a matter of a ‘best guess’ in most cases.
4.Evaluate the outcome
Having tried a solution, it is important to evaluate the success of the solution. If it hasn’t worked, return to step 2, and revisit the possible solutions. Continue this process until the problem is resolved.
While children have many natural abilities and strengths, the process of becoming resilient involves the need for caring adults to guide and support them in exploring, learning and understanding;
- Focus on and acknowledge the positive behaviours more often than the challenging ones
- Create opportunities for learning from mistakes and smart risk-taking and build upon them to create a sense of confidence and self-efficacy. The word Discipline comes form the word to teach, and then to learn and to have confidence for the next round of risk taking.
- Help children to develop problem-solving skills by assisting them to solve their own problems rather than stepping in with your own solutions
- Recognize a child’s capacity, maturity, common sense, and learning and communicate the message that “you have everything you need to succeed”.
- Provide clear and consistent expectations and boundary setting – firm, but warm. https://www.cssd.ab.ca/Parents/SchoolCouncil/2013-2014/Documents/SchoolCouncil_Jan2014_InfoHammond.pdf
Children make mistakes and it is important to emphasize that mistakes are not only accepted, but also expected. The focus of parenting is helping a child to explore and try new things, knowing that not every effort will result in success. But it is important to keep trying, understanding why it did not work and exploring new options. Children need to know that making mistakes should not define who they are; rather it is what they do with the mistakes that will.