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Building Resilience in Youth after Recent Storms and Other Adverse Events

Published March 8, 2018

By Marion M. Walsh, Esq., Littman Krooks LLP

Many of us still lack power and heat after the storm and many schools are still not open.  In addition,  students and school staff are facing continued fear and anxiety after the Parkland, Florida shooting.    For  youth with disabilities, the changes in routines and the increased stress can be devastating.  The recent storms and the continued fears of violence give us an opportunity to remember the value of  helping our children become resilient—one of the most important traits we can give them to prepare them for adulthood .  “Resilience is a universal capacity which allows a person, group or community to prevent, minimize or overcome the damaging effects of adversity,” according to Dr. Edith Grotberg, author of A Guide to Promoting Resilience in Children: Strengthening the Human Spirit and a leader of the International Resilience Project.    Youth who are resilient have the capacity to bounce back after adversity and use negative experiences to become stronger. Resilience is particularly important for children with disabilities.  Many think of resilience as a character trait, but it is actually a learned process of adapting successfully to difficult situations. Parents are the primary teachers and models of resilient behavior.    Stick to routines and rules as much as possible. Remind your child of everything that he or she has, of inner resources and strengths and of all the ways of planning and coping.   If you are able, you may wish to work with your child on ways to help others who are more affected by adversity.

On a broader scale, building resilience long term stakes time and work.  Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg author of Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Your Child Roots and Wings, has developed, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, seven “C”s of resilience, as resilience is not simple.  The traits are Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character, Contribution, Coping and Control. Parents can use these guidelines to help their children recognize their abilities and inner resources.

Stated differently, Dr. Grotberg, recommends that to overcome adversities and to develop resistance, children and adolescents can draw from three sources of resilience features labeled what they have, what they are and what they can do.  These can be modified based on the situation and child’s age.  Essentially, parents and trusted adults can help youth understand the supports they have, their own competencies and their needed actions.

I Have:

  • One or more persons within my family I can trust and who love me without reservation.
  • One or more persons outside my family I can trust  without reservation.
  • Limits to my behavior
  • Good role models
  • People who encourage me to be independent
  • Access to health, education and social and community services I need.
  • A stable family and community

I Am:

  • A person people can like and love
  • Generally calm and good natured
  • An achiever who plans for the future
  • A person who respects myself and others
  • Empathetic and caring of others
  • Responsible for my behavior and accepting of the consequences
  • A confident, optimistic and hopeful person

I Can

  • Reach out for help when I need it
  • Generate new ideas or ways of doing things
  • Stay with a task until it is finished
  • See the humor in life and use it to reduce tension
  • Express thoughts and feelings to communicate with others
  • Solve problems in various settings, whether in school, with friends or at home
  • Manage my behavior, impulses or acting out.

See Grotberg, Edith H.  A Guide to Promoting Resilience in Children: Strengthening the Human Spirit (The International Resilience Project).   These strategies can also be helpful in making schools safer and preventing teen violence .  See   McCarthy, S. and Simon Hutz, C.,  Preventing Teen Violence:  A Guide for Parents and Professionals at p. 133 (Chapter 8: “Teens, Violence and the Three Rs: Resilience, Rehabilitation and Recovery,” with contributions by E. Grotberg, Ph.D)

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