Step Ahead Teacher with children

‘When I fall over, I just get back up’

‘When I fall over, I just get back up’ (Ariya Steiner–Ross)

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day, when she innocently announced, “when I fall over, I just get back up”. “How did you know that’s what you have to do?” I asked. “Cause I just do” she replied.

Resilience, the ability to bounce back from adversity. At the risk of dragging out some of the old sayings I think we can all agree that sometimes life isn’t always ‘plain sailing’. Its fraught with stress, challenges, tragedy and trauma. Some self-inflicted and some caused through no fault of our own. So, when we fall over, how flexible are we when we need to get back up? You’re accessing your own flexibility. Do you bounce back well from what life deals to you? Don’t worry, resilience can be changed, we can become more resilient, regardless of age.

Let me explain to those who haven’t been subjected to stress or adversity what happens to our brain. During times of stress the body goes through changes to make us faster, stronger and more alert. Our heart rate increases, blood pressure goes up, and adrenaline surges through your body. This is alright short term, in fact it’s what the body is designed to do, but if stress is ongoing it can weaken the immune system the body and brain. Ever had a cold sore emerge overnight and wonder where it’s come from only for you to reflect on how stressful things have been lately?

So, just for a minute let’s think about our children. We want them to have opportunities we didn’t have. We want them to have friends, be educated, and on the way through life we are going to protect them and buffer them from all the ups and downs. Despite our best efforts we cannot protect our children from all the ups and downs and if we could, we wouldn’t be doing our children any favours.
Children have different levels of resilience and it can affect their behaviour. Some children might become emotional, withdrawn, be defiant, angry or resentful. When children are resilient, they are braver, more curious and more adaptable.

So how do we develop strategies to deal with adversity?
• One caring adult is necessary to reverse the physiological changes that happen when a child is under stress.
• Let your child know that there are others who are proud of them.
• Children need to know that being brave isn’t about dealing with things by themselves, that asking others for help is alright.
• Build feelings of competence with the brave things that your child does, children with a sense of mastery are less likely to react to stress.
• Nurture optimism focusing on what is left, rather than what has been lost all the time acknowledging your child’s disappointment.
• Encourage your child to take risks, where they are making decisions, this teaches them to cope when things go wrong.
• Build up a collection of problem solving strategies. Rather than solving their problems for them, provide them the language to solve it on their own without handing them the solution.
• Allow lots of time for creativity and play, problem solving is a creative process.
• As adults we need to model resiliency. Watching an adult coping with stress will demonstrate it is something that can be worked through and that sadness and disappointment are normal human experiences.

As tempting as it may be, we need to remind ourselves not to be in too much of a hurry to rush to our child’s rescue because it is the space between falling and standing back up that children learn how find their own feet.

So I give thanks to my friend for reminding me that … “When I fall over I will just get back up”.

Dawn Haora

Permission was obtained from Ariya Steiner-Ross (aged 5) to use her words within this writing.
Sigmund.H., Building Resilience in Children– 20 Practical, Powerful Strategies (Backed by Science)