Is your cup half empty or half full?

Experts say that it is not so much what happens to us but what we think about what happens to us that determines how we feel. This is important when teaching children resilience and how to handle life’s challenges.

Andrew Fuller is a clinical psychologist and Generation Next speaker, he says that resillence is “is the strongest antidote we know of for self-harm, depression and drug abuse and it’s built on our sense of belonging.”

A growing child’s ability to adpt in changing circumstances influences how well they cope with school work, social integration and later on academic and work opportuntiies. 

It is important that in order to develop resillience a child learns to think accurately and positively about situations rather than negatively about their experiences, for example if they are not good at maths, thinking “I’m so dumb I don’t undersand anything” will not help them develop strategies for studying, nor is it an accurate or true thought.

More appropriate and far more healthy for their wellbeing would be a thought like “I find maths hard, perhaps I could ask the teacher to go over it again and with practice I am sure I will improve.” In this way they can help determine a positive outcome and build resillience. This gives the child a sense of control over what is happening to them and therefore makes them feel that they can do something about it.

4 foundation stones to building positive thoughts and resilience

1. Watch your thoughts. Talk to young people about the kinds of thoughts they have about themselves and their daily experiences. Encourage the child to watch their thoughts and not to be influenced by thoughts that make them feel bad about themselves, like “I’m so stupid”.

2. Question thoughts. Get children to ask themselves “are the upsetting thoughts I am thinking about myself/the situation really true?” what is the real outside evidence to support or dismiss these thoughts. For example if they feel that they don’t fit into a social group, point out times when they have done things with this group and who in the group has been friendly towards them.

3. Lead by example. Teachers and parents can model positive and accurate thinking patterns in everyday situations. For example, when they make a mistake, acknowledge it and confirm that they might find the task difficult but that they are still learning and trying hard to get it right. Follow up by saying that they are sure they will get it right first time next time.

4. Lead a healthy lifestyle. This helps give young people the strength they need to be resilient. Make sure children are in a settled and regular routine. They need a good night’s sleep with a set going to be time, especially on school nights. Children aged 5 to 12 need 10-12 hours sleep per night; while those aged 12 to 15 need 8 to 10 hours. They also need a healthy and varied diet which includes vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and high quality meat and fish. Regular daily exercise is also important. It is recommended that they play outside or engage in sports for an hour a day, every day. This also acts as a natural anti-depressant and stress reliever as it helps release ‘happy hormones’ into the system.

For more information about how to develop resilience skills go to the Beyond Blue program SenseAbility which helps explain how our thoughts can help or hinder us.  Also check out The Resilience Donut which is a simple and practical tool that can be used to support the development of resilience in children and adolescents.

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: Resilience Donut, Beyondblue. Andrew Fuller. Psyce4schools