Families – 2014 IStockphoto

Often when young people are experiencing difficult times in their lives they cannot believe that good times will come again. They often forget that they have even had some good times in the past. Adults working with young people need to share some of their own life stories to illustrate that we all experience ups and downs in our lives, and we learn to work our way through them. The journey does not end today, rather, it continues.

A brainstorm and discussion about what ‘resilience’ is, is often a good way to start. This can include finding other positive words to describe the concept. Unless young people make sense of it for themselves, they will not value it.

Looking at definitions can help open up the discussion, such as:

  • the  power  or  ability  to  return  to  the  original  form,  position,  etc.,  after  being  bent,  compressed,  or stretched;  elasticity.
  • ability  to  recover  readily  from  illness,  depression,  adversity,  or  the  like;  buoyancy.


  • the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens.
  • the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.

Definitions can also give a broader view of resilience and include things young people may not have thought of. After some discussion, each person could work on their own personal definition.

Naming situations and words that make us feel good about ourselves is often harder than identifying ones that make us feel bad. Having a compare and contrast type brainstorm can encourage young people to practice identifying negative thoughts early, before they take hold. The next stage is practicing turning those negative thoughts into positive ones.

Part of this is also to recognise negative self-talk and to challenge it. Challenging negative thoughts takes practice and young people may need support to develop phrases to do this, until it becomes easier.

Often young people will not have the words to describe how they are feeling. Using a ‘case study’ approach to give some distance first, the discussion can then turn to examples of authentic and everyday tough situations faced by young people and the individual or group can work through some strategies to get through them. Sharing this work can provide examples that can be used in their own lives.

Building resilience is life long and adults sharing their stories and strategies enables young people to realise they are not alone. Modelling ways to avoid getting stuck in a tough time provides discussion around where to go to for more and/or specific help.

Aileen Davidson is Skylight’s National Travellers Coordinator and works with schools, community groups, marae and youth centres throughout New Zealand and in the Cook Islands.

[email protected]

Skylight’s (www.skylight.org.nz) Travellers (www.travellers.org.nz) resilience building programme is run by trained facilitators with small groups of young people. Set up as part of New Zealand’s Suicide Prevention Strategy, the programme works to support young people who may be experiencing challenging and stressful times.