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Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022

Is Resilience A Part of Your Story?

Children and adults must work together

How does your story begin in 2022? For many of us, hope and optimism are clouded by weariness -- the weariness that comes from too many unexpected plot twists. Our stories of life and relationships have been altered in dramatic ways, requiring many revisions.

However, as adults, we have the power to make decisions that can improve our lives. We can access information and make life changes. We can draw on our existing strengths or begin to build new ones to improve our well-being. We can write new chapters to our stories.

Children lack the ability to revise their life narratives as they are largely powerless to change or influence the adverse circumstances they may face. Their stories are written by the decisions of adults. They must rely on us to help them navigate this difficult time -- to teach them how to find hope and purpose by building resilience.

Resilience is the attribute that allows us to bounce back from hardship. Although we use this term frequently, the source of resilience can be elusive. How and where do we get it? Why do some of us thrive despite adversity while others are overwhelmed by similar experiences? Science tells us that resilience is built from a combination of factors that include Connections (safe, stable, nurturing relationships), Coping (healthy emotional expression), and Capabilities (the confidence and skills gained from meaningful activities). There is nothing magical or mysterious about resilience, and we can build it at any time, at any age.

The building blocks of resilience are not equal. Which is the most critical component? Safe, stable, and nurturing relationships – something many children in our community may lack. They may be living in unstable or highly stressful situations, which can impair their well-being and healthy development. The Harvard Center on the Developing Child contends that when a child’s stress moves from “tolerable” to “toxic,” resilience is the essential buffer to avoid developmental harm. The Centers for Disease Control report that the presence of social and emotional support can mitigate the impact of childhood trauma.

We must recognize that providing supportive relationships for a child requires healthy adults.

Emotionally taxed, burned-out caregivers simply do not have much to give. By investing in our own resilience, our well-being improves, and we have the capacity to make a resilient contribution to others.

Resilience is a two-for-one opportunity. Thankfully, a child’s need for nurturing relationships is not limited to parents or caregivers. We can all contribute. Any supportive adult can provide caring relationships in a child’s life. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children who experience safe and nurturing communities can develop into resilient adults. The presence of at least two non-parent adults who show genuine interest is important, making neighbors, teachers, coaches and other mentors necessary and critical contributors.

Local schools are helping meet this need. Caddo Parish Superintendent Dr. Lamar Goree describes their efforts: “Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, our teachers and staff saw firsthand the effects of childhood trauma and adverse childhood experiences on student outcomes and knew we needed to act.” As a result, many new supports are available in schools to help children facing hardships.

In addition to relationships, emotional expression and meaningful experiences are also necessary to build resilience. All of us, children and adults, need to learn how to safely express strong emotions and to have opportunities to pursue activities we enjoy, such as arts, music and sports. And when we can do those things within a community of caring relationships, it is there that we find the sweet spot for resilience.

The Galilee Urban Tee-Ball League, founded by Pastor Brian Wilson of Galilee Baptist Church, is one such sweet spot. By providing an activity that children (and their parents) love, players build life-long relationships with caring coaches and learn how to express disappointment and triumph. As Pastor Wilson states, “The goal of the league is to reach our children at an early stage of their development and mentor them to be productive and positive people through the game of baseball.” His real aim is not to win games but to give children relationships with caring adult mentors.

And when life brings inevitable challenges, they do not have to face them alone. They are part of a team – not just a team that wins at baseball, but a team that wins at life. The Urban Tee-Ball League shows us exactly how to build resilience.

We can all follow this example. Creating a resilient community is a shared responsibility involving parents and schools, churches, community organizations and neighbors. We cannot prevent all adversity, but we can give our children and ourselves the means to overcome it through Connections, Coping and Capabilities. By working together to provide these building blocks of resilience, we can make it possible for their stories, and ours, to have happy endings.

Laura Alderman, LPC-S, LMFT, NCC , Director of the Institute for Childhood Resilience, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, LSU Health Shreveport.

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