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Three Things Your Children Can Teach You About Resilience

17/07/2014 16:44 BST | Updated 16/09/2014 10:59 BST
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Were you more resilient as a child than you are now?

I have a bugbear, and that is the way resilience is described as simply bouncing back. Here is the thing. We all bounce back from the rubbish life throws at us one way or another. That in itself is not resilience. Resilience is the way we adapt and respond to the rubbish life throws at us. This will either strengthen or weaken your resilience over the years.

Have you strengthened or weakened your resilience over the years?

Here are three lessons your children can teach you about resilience that may help you the next time you face an adversity or testing situation.

Self belief is fragile

When my daughter was five years old she started her school day happy and confident. That same day the other children had been making fun of her because she had been moved down in her class for math. They told her she was "stupid at math". I remember the moment she blurted out "mummy why am I so stupid at math?" She believed them. I felt so helpless, and have never forgotten that feeling.

Later that evening I took her to a window and told her we were going to do something very special. We practiced taking the bad thoughts about math out of her mind. Together we literally threw the bad thoughts out of the window. I told her those bad thoughts are now going to be replaced with special powers that would make her really good at math. The secret to why this works is that children are right brain dominant. It is the right side of our brains that hosts imaginary thinking so this technique works particularly well with youngsters.

The next day my daughter was filled with stories of how the powers worked. Magically, she was good at math again. Never again did she have a problem with math. Clearly her resilience was heavily influenced by what others had told her. This is the fragility of self belief. It is much better to believe that you can find a way through the adversities life throws at you, and that you are worth something rather than believe others when they tell you that you're worthless or stupid.

Experience has taught me that as an adult no one can make you feel stupid or worthless, unless you already feel that way about yourself. You can activate your right brain by visualising yourself as being better than you think you are. Imagine you are 200 times more confident and secure in who you are. The more you can continue to do this the more resilient you will become.

Being mindful

Children are naturally mindful. They have an amazing ability to be absorbed in their present moment experiences. If you notice children playing, their full attention is on the business of playing and the decisions required to play well. In fact, around 70% of their thinking is focused on the present moment, compared to adults whose thinking is around 70% focused on the future or the past.

The problem with all this is that stressful situations shut down areas of the left prefrontal cortex of the brain. These areas are responsible for decision-making. Adult decision-making becomes much less effective when we spend 70% of our mental energies thinking about the future or the past. The result is that adults are more likely to experience more stressful thoughts and even anxious feelings compared to children.

Researchers at the University of Georgetown found that when children experienced stressful situations, their sadness and fear faded much faster than adults. The way they made this happen was by focusing on playing. Most adults simply do not allow themselves to "play" or "relax" during stressful times, even though it is the very thing that will help increase their resilience.

Do you give yourself the space and time during stressful and testing times to "play" or "relax"?

Being curious

Have you noticed children are always asking "why"? They are intensely curious about their world. An average four-year-old girl asks 390 questions per day. Thank god for Google, especially when asked "why is water wet mummy"?

When you increase your curiosity around a difficult situation you will start the process of problem solving and your resilience will start to increase. Curiosity, according to brain researchers like Bessel van der Kolk, is essential in keeping your left prefrontal cortex working and "on line" during stressful moments.

One of the best ways to be more curious during taxing moments is to ask more questions about the adversity you're facing and to focus on the solution rather than the problem.

Back to the resilience drawing board

Sometimes, it is just about going back to the resilience drawing board and recovering your resilience. Your resilience never disappears; it's just a matter of tapping back into what is within you. And, you have to believe that this is something you can do. Children have absolutely no problem doing this.

If any of this sounds familiar, I would love to hear about your experiences or views in the comments below.