Teaching children resilience
The basic idea is that parents shouldn’t jump in to remove stress from their offspring. Instead they should normalise their experiences, teach them to tolerate discomfort, and stand alongside them while they practice problem-solving with the child. All good advice.
Adults can learn resilience too
I want now to extend this advice to adults. For it seems to me that many people do not have this basic art of resilience.
Too often people react to their unwanted experiences with anxiety, rage, frustration, avoidance and self-pity. Most likely because they were brought up to believe that a) bad things should not happen to people, b) that their unhappiness is caused by an evil, external force called ‘stress’, and c) that the appropriate response to ‘stress’ is to run away from it.
‘Stress’ is a made-up word
In a previous article I explained that the term ‘stress’ doesn’t mean very much. The truth about so-called stressful experiences is that they are created in the mind. External events are not the cause, merely the accidental trigger. So losing your job is the trigger: anxious thoughts, depressing predictions, and bottled-up emotions are what you might add to what was already a bad situation.
How to build resilience
The resilient response (the one those enlightened parents are teaching their children) lies first in accepting misfortune, rather than bewailing the fact that bad things sometimes happen. The second is to observe the ‘stressful’ experience created by your mind, the third is to defuse from the thoughts that create that experience. Finally, moving towards problem-solving mode. If no solutions are immediately available the default response is to turn your attention to things you can influence, rather than those you can’t.