This article appeared in the June 2015 issue of the Gazette newspapers which are distributed throughout the Penrith area.

‘Resilience’ is a bit of a buzz word these days.

We all want our kids to do well and to be well. One of the things that determines social and emotional wellbeing is “resilience”. Resilience is defined as the ability of an individual to access resources to prevent, minimise, or overcome hardship.

My favourite definition of resilience comes from a draft paper titled “Whole School Matters” (September, 2008)…

“The capacity to deal constructively with change or challenge, allowing the person to maintain or re-establish their social and emotional wellbeing in the face of difficult events.”

The problem, I think, we have when talking about resilience is that we treat it as something separate to our parenting and teaching. We treat it as something separate that our children must learn, like they learn maths, or the rules of whichever sport they choose to play.  It is treated as something that we do to, or for, our children.

But really, resilience is learnt within environments through children feeling heard and feeling that they belong. Children learn coping skills in relationship with parents and teachers. They learn about feelings and how to manage them, from birth, in relationship with us. The most optimal environment is a positive one, in which parents and teachers regard themselves as guides and educators.

There is no point learning how to apply resilience in environments that are harsh, punitive, or unyielding, and having caregivers that shame children on a regular basis. It’s like applying a band aid to a gaping wound. For this reason, I think that parenting programmes like Circle of Security and Triple P are better programmes for promoting resilience in our children that any resilience programme available for children.

There has been a steady decline of resilience and mental health in young people over the past 3 decades. What I am increasingly finding in my work with children, is that they feel they cannot bring their struggles and problems to their parents. The message from parents to their children resoundingly is “build a bridge and get over it”, “stop being a drama queen/wuss/sook”, “suck it up princess”, or “man up”. Up to 90% of the children I work with feel they cannot talk to their parents, or when they do they are dismissed, rescued, punished, or ignored. The majority of Year 6 children I speak with, young people heading into high school and adolescence, feel their parents don’t listen to them. No wonder 1 in 4 of our young people will go on to develop clinical depression. In this ‘lucky’ country. Too sad.

As an Aboriginal woman said to me many years ago, “you can’t be a strong tree, if you don’t have strong roots”. So how do our children grow strong roots? Australian psychologist, Andrew Fuller, cites the research and advises that those children who are most resilient have been found to have three factors in their life…

  1. Feeling love, connection, and belonging within their family;
  2. Having a few friendship groups, so that if they fall out with one group they can align themselves with another group;
  3. Having an adult outside the family that likes them.

Parenting is the most important factor in children’s resilience. Children grow up in the context of family. I would like to see the resilience debate going forward as placing an emphasis on parents to learn positive parenting skills and providing an environment in which our children grow their resilience skills, rather than placing the onus on children to bear the responsibility for learning resilience skills. How are you creating an environment in which your children can grow strong roots?

Author: Narelle Smith
Family Worker & Student Wellbeing Worker
Nepean Community & Neighbourhood Services


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