“Life is not a matter of holding good cards but of playing a poor hand well.” —Robert Louis Stevenson.
As President (and newsletter editor) for a local psychological association, the Adlerian Society of Arizona, I am called upon (nay, I volunteer) to choose an appropriate theme for each edition of the newsletter, and ask (nay, beg) for my fellow Adlerians’ contributions. I try to make each newsletter relevant and interesting, (and worthy of the 25 bucks in annual dues that the members spend to belong to our fledgling group.)
The following is my contribution to the ASA Fall Newsletter, on the topic of overcoming challenges, and fostering resiliency in our youth:
Resiliency, or the ability to “bounce back” from adversity and challenge, is a trait (or perhaps a skill-set) that I’m sure we as counselors, parents, and/or educators, hope to foster in others: our children, our students, our clients, and even in ourselves. We know that being resilient is necessary to be able to get over huge obstacles, maintain perspective, move forward, and overcome setbacks. Without resiliency, any unfortunate event, accident, or loss can result in giving up, learned helplessness, hopelessness, and even a lack of social interest.
Whenever I think of resiliency, I can’t help but think about my experiences as a Probation Officer in the Juvenile Court system and the many children I encountered there who lived in unspeakable conditions and in the most dysfunctional of circumstances. Amid the many terribly “troubled” kids in the system, there were always a rare few who were amazingly resilient, who were somehow able to make it against the odds, making me wonder where they got the strength to cope and exist in a world that, to them, must have seem terribly unfair and difficult.
Just as there are some children from great families who mess up, and have to learn many of life’s lessons “the hard way,” there are, too, many children who come from dysfunction and despair, who somehow make it, and somehow survive amazingly well—despite poverty, affliction, criminal families, lack of education, and a lack of social or moral values or role models. I would often wonder, in my years of working with some of the most troubled teens in town, what the secret was. What was it that made it possible for one kid to be capable of coping with his ugly world, overcoming problems, turning his life around, and abiding by societal rules, when another from a similar background just couldn’t seem to be able to get it together?
Fortunately, much research has been done on the topic of Resiliency, and Tucson is fortunate to be a leader in the Resiliency Movement. The Tucson Resiliency Initiative (TRI) is “a grassroots effort to promote resiliency” by mobilizing all aspects of the community – particularly schools – to build resiliency in youth.
According to “Introduction to Resiliency” by Katie Frey, Ph.D., researchers in this field have identified characteristics common to children who have succeeded “against the odds.” These protective factors include many traits that can be developed by using principles that we (as Adlerians) identify as being Adlerian in nature, including: encouragement, respect, and social interest.
Dr. Frey identifies resilient children as those who are: “self-reliant, independent, self-controlled, hopeful, and who have an internal locus of control, and a sense of purpose.”
So what can we do to help foster these qualities and create an environment for our children that is condusive to resiliency? As Adlerians, we already know. To learn resiliency, we can and must aim to provide: access to resources for meeting basic needs, access to leadership positions, opportunities for decision-making, and meaningful participation in the community.
Dr. Frey’s other suggestions for the community to help foster resiliency include: “creating an environment where there is unconditional acceptance by at least one other person, having clear and enforced boundaries, encouraging pro-social values, appreciating an individual’s unique talents, and creating and maintaining a positive school climate with teachers and positive adults who truly care.”
So as the school year begins, and many of us resume (or continue) in our efforts to make the world a more encouraging and resilient place, keep in mind that the single most important thing you can do in the life of a child is to love him or her, and teach the importance of positive attitude, social interest, encouragement, and unconditional acceptance.