Perception is key to resilience: Do you conceptualize an event as traumatic, or as a chance to learn and grow?The New Yorker

“This is really hard” my friend said with an exhausted face over Zoom, as her 3-year-old son ran back and forth, uncontrollably, down a hallway in their two-bedroom apartment.

“We might lose it. How are we going to keep this up?” she asked.

The last several months have presented individuals, families and communities with unique adversity on a global scale. A public health event requiring physical distancing has also provided the window in to how intricately connected we are. As her son came running back down the hallway, we both agreed that safety, problem-solving, and resilience are the most valuable tools we can offer ourselves and our family as we navigate our ‘new normal.’

Families are engaging in their own ways of coping. Finding the right tools and applying those tools as they shape us now and in the future. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) can be a foundation to strengthening psychological health and resiliency during times of duress for you, your kids and your family. The overwhelming majority of parents (81%), teachers (93%), and school administrators (96%), believe that social and emotional learning is just as important as academic learning (McGraw Hill, 2018).

SEL is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to:

  • Understand and manage emotions
  • Set and achieve positive goals
  • Feel and show empathy for others
  • Establish and maintain positive relationships
  • Make responsible decisions

SEL is critical now as we cope with trauma, stress, grief and loss, and as we express our agency through resisting injustices (CASEL SEL RoadMap, 2020). We can limit the extremes of uncertain times by focusing on building our social-emotional skills, specifically resilience with intention.

My friend’s 3-year old son came barreling down the hallway, but this time with more vigor than before. She started to tear up, took a deep breath and said, “How do you build resilience on a plane that is already in flight and with no landing zone in sight?” The answer: put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others.

With 81% of parents believing that social and emotional learning is just as important as academic learning, how are we ‘putting our oxygen mask on first’ and modeling resilience for our kids? How do we take this moment to pause and teach with intention the life-long skill of resilience?

Research shows that resilience is a set of thoughts and behaviors that can be taught. According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is defined as:

“The process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress such as serious health problems, family and relationship problems, and workplace and financial stressors” (APA, 2020).

Resilience involves ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences, but it can also involve personal growth. The ability to be resilient in the face of obstacles involves:

  • Regulating one’s emotions, thoughts, behaviors, as well as managing stress and controlling impulses
  • Having compassion for self and others
  • Having healthy boundaries
  • Motivating oneself
  • Setting and working toward goals

Being resilient does not mean that one will not experience trauma or challenges in life. Resilience is about applying skills learned overtime to aid in navigating trauma and the challenges that we experience. Building your toolbox of resilience and applying your skills requires adopting new behaviors and applying them consistently (Neff, 2020). Below are strategies to practice building your toolbox of resilience:

Self-Compassion and Positive Self-Talk

  • Look toward common humanity (e.g., “Everyone suffers, I am not perfect (no one is), I am not alone”)
  • Observe thoughts and feelings as they are without trying to suppress or deny them. One cannot ignore pain and feel compassion for it at the same time
  • Be loving towards yourself, not self-critical (e.g., Ask yourself, “Has someone else said this to me or given me this feedback?” – if not, you are most likely being self-critical)
  • Be mindful, notice your struggle, and define it instead of being reactive (e.g., “I feel I have reached my patience threshold; I need… (a break).”

Let me offer these resources:

Healthy Boundaries and Giving Yourself a Break

  • Evaluate your values, and make a list
  • Identify your feelings and limits (e.g., practice self-control by knowing what is outside of your comfort zone, set limits on your time and energy)
  • Healthy boundaries let others know what to expect of us, communicate to others what you need with clear and concise language
  • Take an inventory of your own stress factors and make a list of your self-management tools (i.e., How do you practice self-care? and How often do you practice it?)
  • Take scheduled breaks (e.g., if you feel you begin to reach your threshold for self-control at a higher frequency, consider scheduling more breaks in your day/week)

Let me offer this resource:

  • Check out a great online resource for Self-Care for Families Tool Kit

Problem Solving and Goal Setting

  • Set a timer for 5 minutes and create a list of all the solutions to your problem. Ask yourself, “Which solution would highlight the positive outcomes that matter the most? What am I most comfortable with?”
  • Select an ‘implementation intention’ by stating a specific and desired, goal-directed behavior using an ‘if X then Y statement’ (e.g., “If the television show I am watching goes to a commercial break, I will do sit ups or practice mindful breathing until the show comes back on.”)
  • Create and write down a specific, clear, and measurable goal (e.g., include a specific timeline, define the actions into clear and concise steps that need to be taken for completion, include completion dates even if they need to be re-evaluated in the future)
  • Set up a method for tracking progress toward a goal (e.g., asking someone for feedback on your progress, reviewing your progress, or continuously tracking how you are progressing toward your goal with a checklist)
  • Set up accountability by telling others about your goal so they can help you to stay on track

Let me offer this resource:

Growth Mindset and Gratitude

  • Label the process of feeling negative thoughts (e.g., “I am having the thought, ‘I am no good’”)
  • Reframe your thought and put it into perspective (e.g., “I have not figured out __ yet” or ask yourself, “How important is this really to me?”)
  • Start a gratitude practice, create a routine with identifying something you are grateful, for and practice with your family (e.g., daily at dinner/breakfast, weekly, monthly gratitude time)
  • Pay it forward by doing something for someone else or creating a schedule on the calendar for giving back – weekly, monthly, quarterly (e.g., Pick up and take the mail to the doorstep, pick up a package for an elderly neighbor)

Let me offer these resources:

  • Check out the “How to talk to your Kid about Gratitude” video and podcast with home activity ideas
  • Take the Gratitude Quiz for Adults

Identify Resources

  • Prioritize relationships and build connection through joining an online forum or group
  • Meet regularly on the phone or online with a supportive colleague, friend, or mentor to share victories and challenges
  • Get help when you need it (e.g., family counselor or licensed mental health professional)

Additional Resources

Big Life Journal – a resilience journal with additional resources for kids

References

Adler, M. G., & Fagley, N. S. (2005). “Appreciation: individual differences in finding value and meaning as a unique predictor of subjective well‐being.” Journal of Personality, 73 (1), 79-114

American Psychological Association. (2020, February 1). Building your resilience. http://www.apa.org/topics/resilience

Committee on Children (2016). Published August 1, 2016. Social-emotional learning: What is it and why is it important? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikehX9o1JbI&feature=youtu.be

Maria Konnikova. (2016, February 11, 2016). How People Learn to Be Resilient. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/the-secret-formula-for-resilience

Neff, Dr. Kristin. (2020, January 1). Self-Compassion. https://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/