Can we see adversity as opportunity? With intensive media coverage about community violence and natural disasters, it can be helpful to use such events to see adversity as an opportunity to cultivate peace in day-to-day events wherever you are. Social issues demand our attention, and we must engage in community dialog and commit to changes that assure a hopeful future, especially knowing that children are keenly aware of the unsettling circumstances of the adult world around them. Since adults are the first teachers of conflict and communication skills, what are we teaching them? In any given day, there are incidents of unkindness and adversity in schools everywhere. It is in these times we can teach children to be guardians of peace and justice by teaching them resilience. This can be a way to deter the behaviors that result from stress and anxiety over circumstances beyond their control.
What is resilience?
Resilience is the ability to navigate the ups and downs of life with the capacity to withstand stress and catastrophe. Psychologists have long recognized that humans can adapt and overcome adversity, and individual lives and communities can bounce back even after devastating tragedies.
Promote Peace in Common Complaints:
Teasing, Exclusion, Bullying
What if we were no longer allowed to make accusations of bullying in schools – it simply became an unacceptable way to describe a child’s negative interpersonal experiences? First we would need to eliminate the environment that fosters bullying. Parents, school staff and students together could commit to shouldering the responsibility of constructively seeing unwanted, undesirable behavior as an opportunity to teach and learn important life lessons. This begins with making the distinction in the types of behaviors that can sometimes be tossed under the “bullying” label. Through the lens of resilience we would see this as an opportunity to create peace and justice by promoting kindness, fairness, forgiveness and forbearance.
Teasing is having fun, making comments, or laughter with someone (or a group) about a common shared experience or circumstance. It is never mean-spirited or intending to harm in any way. Many times classmates tease with good intention, but at times one may cross the line into hurtful territory. For this reason, it is important to monitor teasing to be sure it does not cause emotional or physical harm. Sometimes teasing can be misunderstood in statements such as, “My team is better than yours.” If children learn to consider such comments as teasing, they can respond using humor. For instance, “I know one thing for sure, BOTH teams have at least one star player – you and me!” This can keep the tone light.
There are times when name calling can be perceived as teasing, however children have reported pain from some of these labels that they were afraid to express when the incident occurred. Sarcasm and negative humor typically provide a venue for hurtful comments to be framed in laughter. When a comment is quickly followed by…”just joking!” it is probably negative or sarcastic. Never let laughter be at someone else’s expense.
Exclusion is leaving others out, whether intentional or not. Schools can have a rule at recess, “You can’t say you can’t play.” This sets an expectation of inclusiveness without question. Many times adults have friendship groups formed even before they begin their families. So sometimes friendships have been in place for many years, and it may never occur to them that they are “excluding” new members to the community. Families that have common interests, such as sports, also tend to have more time together watching games or practices, and may also have planned social events. Making every effort to be aware of the need to include others creates a warm and friendly community culture.
This is particularly true if families are longstanding members of a school community. Adults can be the models in these instances by “widening your circle of friends.” Choose new people to join you at Trivia Nights, auctions, or other school functions. Become aware of others who may want to join you but may not feel comfortable making the first move. It is a sign of self-confidence in both adults and children when we are able to welcome others.
Bullying is intentional, repeated abusive behavior that can cause a target to feel unsupported and isolated. While this does happen, rarely do children wake up intending to act with cruelty. This mean-spirited behavior may be explainable for children with problems that can cause a lack of empathy or inappropriate social behavior. It is important to determine why the behaviors are occurring as a way to understand the problem. This can help when attempting to hold the student accountable for making things as right as possible when they occur.
Harm, Humiliation and Intimidation
With these distinctions in behaviors, it is helpful to ask very specific questions when dealing with harm. Is the problematic behavior name calling, put downs, or rude remarks? If so, it can be categorized as harm, whether physical or emotional. If it is intended to diminish a person’s sense of self, it is humiliation. If a threat is involved (i.e. a perceived threat of a loss of friendship, or using possessions as a way to “buy” friendship), then it is considered intimidation. These three words then give a more specific behavior to discuss, thus avoiding the generic “bully” label.
After we identify the undesirable behaviors more specifically, we can begin to intentionally cultivate resilience. Teaching children to withstand the ups and downs that life presents while maintaining emotional stability is one of the best life-skills they can inherit from us. The earliest training begins at home within the family.
You may know people who exhibit optimism, which is the cornerstone to resilience. Research has shown that some people are born with a naturally positive outlook. There is further evidence to support the fact that new experiences and supportive relationships can literally change brain structure. For this reason, psychologists believe optimism and resilience can be built – so we have the potential to help ourselves and our children see the good in and around us even if we do not have a naturally positive outlook on life.
Relationships are as important to our wellbeing as healthy eating. Part of our healthy brain development depends on learning to regulate emotions, weave in and out of social relationships with ease and skill, and to use our intellect and emotions to solve problems as they arise in a wide variety of day-to-day situations. Given the turbulence of the world in which we live today, learning to be resilient is more important than ever.