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How to Build the Resilience to Overcome Life's Challenges

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

As someone who works with teenagers and young adults to support confident career choices, I have been in awe of the resilience and tenacity shown in the recent student response and successful overturn to the 2020 A Level debacle. When our youth show such dignity during adversity, they demonstrate how to face challenge with grace and determination.

Our schools and institutions of further education have historically been seen as having a reliable, year in year out rhythm and formula, which have provided a much-needed structure and the opportunity to explore and develop within a predictable, safe framework. The temporary closure of educational establishments around the world as a result of the COVID pandemic, with the cancellation of classes, formal exams, extra-curricular activities, has shaken the growth model.

As distance and blended learning looks set to continue, along with the possibility of further temporary school closures, it is clear that now more than ever, emotional resilience must be our number one priority across the board as students, parents, and educators.

What is Emotional Resilience?

Resilience is the ability to cope with challenges, deal with negative feelings, and “bounce back” after something unforeseen and/or negative – such as a tough situation or difficult time. It’s also the ability to adapt to difficult circumstances that you can’t change, and to keep on thriving.

Grit, tenacity, and perseverance have become an important and popular topic of discussion among educators and political leaders alike. These traits have been identified through years of research and practice as among the potentially high-leverage factors contributing to success in school and life. Researchers have found that these and other closely related factors can have just as strong an influence on achievement as intellectual ability.

The Bedrock Program Toolkit to Develop Resilience & Overcome Challenge

"I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles overcome while trying to succeed."
- Booker T. Washington (African American educator)

1. Make Sure They Know They Are Valued

Parents should never assume that their children know they are loved and supported. It is important for parents to regularly express to their children that they are unconditionally loved and valued, and that this love and value are not based on achievement. As parents, we do not always remember how it feels as a teenager. There are numerous expectations, some real and some imagined. This sheer number of emotions linked to expectations perceived and real can create cross interdependencies that may not exist in reality. Similarly, key influencers in their life, such as teachers, mentors etc. must also show that they value teenagers and young adults for who they are, and not only what they can do.

2. Set Realistic Goals

No child or young adult can consistently achieve perfection without paying a high psychological, and in many cases, physical, price. Perfection is relative and the pursuit of it has been the fall for many families. It’s important to guide teenagers and young adults to set realistic goals that result from their own desire to achieve, rather than parents’ or educators’ expectations of what achievement should look like.

Goal setting helps create accountability, celebrate the small wins along the way, overcome challenges, and most importantly, seek help when needed. In uncertain times, goals are the glue that keep us focused and avoid panic and fight demotivation. Talking about your own goals openly, and agreeing family goals, demonstrates to your son or daughter how to explore, and create their own goals.

3. Allow Them to Make Mistakes & Recover from Them

Our first instinct is often to shield teenagers from the consequences of their mistakes, or prevent them from making mistakes altogether. This fails to prepare them for adult life, where an ability to learn and recover from failure is essential. Providing the safe space to understand consequences and develop problem-solving allows them to “fail forward”, with the steady support of parents, teachers, and advisors. If they are well equipped to troubleshoot their lives as adults, they will be able to face challenge head-on.

4. Encourage Young People to Try Something that Didn’t Work in the Past

Oftentimes, adults can disregard ideas when they feel “we’ve tried that before.” Young people however, are much more likely to suggest things that have already been tried since they were not around to hear about it the first time. When we invite young people to