Category Archives: Parenting Skills

Making School-from-Home Work

Like millions of parents around the world right now, I’m learning how to support my child in “attending” public school from home. (Note: I call this school-from-home rather than homeschooling, because  it’s a very different experience for those who are  doing it due to the pandemic, versus those who chose it for a long-term path.) I’ll share here the system that is working for us, in case it is helpful to others, but there is no one right approach that will work for everyone.

What the School Gives Us

My son is in the third grade in the Lake Washington School District (in the suburbs of Seattle). For 3rd grade, they’re supposed to do about 150 minutes a week of reading, 150 minutes of math,  60 minutes of writing, one “library” activity, one music and one PE. Plus, if time, 30 minutes science and 30 minutes social studies. It’s supposed to add up to 1 – 2 hours a day, or about 8 – 10 hours a week. We find it takes about 2 – 2.5 hours a day to complete the assignments.

It is primarily screen-based, with apps and online learning platforms that guide the kids through the activities. They can do the activities at any time. Twice a week, they have a brief class teleconference on Teams where they mostly check-in – sharing what they’ve been up to. Weekly schedules are sent each Monday, and every Thursday teachers check if the kids have done their work.

Here is a sample weekly schedule.

schedule

Do you feel overwhelmed looking at that? I sure do! We haven’t even shown this to our son, because he would overload just from imagining all this work hanging over him.

On Facebook, I’ve seen some parents say they’ve set up a schedule, where they do reading from 9 – 9:30, math from 9:30 – 10, and so on. That would not work with my son. Forcing him to do something when he’s not in the mood is really a battle – if he can choose when to do something, it goes much better. At least most parents built in recess / free play blocks into their schedules, and that would make it better!

Some parents sit down one on one with their kids all day – as a working parent, I can’t manage that.

Our System

Our school system did not offer the online learning in the early weeks of the closure. But we needed to do something… my husband and I work full-time from home right now, and we need ways to keep our son busy! If it were up to him, he would be on video games and YouTube all day long, and barring that, would read all day long. He needed to have more balance than that, so we invented our Suddenly Homeschooling system. When the school district added in distance learning, we adapted our system. It works great for us, as it gives him a lot of flexibility and choices, while also providing a lot of structure and routine (very important to our son, who is autistic) and communicating what our expectations are for him to accomplish.

cardsWe have a system of cards, each representing a piece of his work. He has to complete 8 cards a day. When he has completed 4, he earns an hour of screen time. When he has completed 8, he earns a second hour of screen time. Then, he is done with his work for the day, and done with screens for the day.  Each day he has 6 cards that are required (morning check-in, reading, math, writing, science/social studies, and physical activity – he needs to burn off some energy for all our sanity!) The others are flexible – practicing playing recorder, calling his grandparents, helping with extra chores, etc. Click here to see all his: Cards.

We keep the cards on the desk where my husband and I work, and whenever our son finishes a task, he comes over and we check it off, and help him figure out what he wants to work on next. If he needs help, one of us helps him, and then gets back to work. If he wants a snuggle, he sits in our laps and we work around him. We work breakfast and lunch in around the schedule he chooses – he often eats while listening to a read-aloud or watching a video for school. Or he takes a break and we eat socially – it’s up to him.

Having the cards rather than a checklist works really well for us. The tangible nature of being able to sort through the cards, put the completed tasks in one pile, put the next task on the top of the pile, and see the required task pile dwindle as the day goes on feels much more manageable for us than looking at that checklist of all the week’s activities all at once.

Some days, he stays really focused, and he whips through the first 4 points by 10:30 in the morning, and done with all his work by 1:30. Other days, he dinks around, or chooses to read for fun instead of doing his school work, and it takes till late afternoon. When he’s dinking, we remind him of the impact of that choice, but sometimes he decides that’s the way he wants to balance his responsibilities and his relaxation, which we think is good learning, as that’s how things will work in college and much of adult life.

And if he’s done his work, which has allowed us to complete our work, then we have the shared reward of evenings that are relaxed social time for all of us. Movies, walks, and games.

I’m not saying it’s perfect. We have certainly had some big battles! (I feel like i need to post a sign to my neighbors saying “If you hear screaming from the house, don’t worry… it’s just that we said screen time is done for the day.”) But all in all, I feel like we’re on the right track for our family.

* Not One Size Fits All

I want to be really clear that I know different things work for different people -different kids have different skills, temperaments, and challenges in their environments – different parents have different skills, temperaments, and challenges in their environments – there’s never one right answer!

I also totally get that not everyone has the same resources available to them – we are lucky to have the devices we need for online schooling, good internet access, reliable access to food and safe housing, and the ability to work from home and maintain our income, and we’re two parents with one kid (we have two other children, but they are adults and are not living at home), so truly, I have no judgment for other people who are having a hard time making things work.

I think it is a fair and reasonable thing for some parents to choose to opt out of schooling from home. Doing school is mostly a soothing routine for us. If it creates tons of stress for your family, and trying to get through it is feeling stressful or even traumatic for you, you might make other choices. I hear (on Facebook – haven’t verified) that you’re not required to school children under age 8. (And I believe in the power of play-based learning for young kids! So you might be able to create a play-based system that works for you). I suspect that for older kids, you could do some paperwork to transfer over to “homeschooling” which has looser requirements.

Or many parents are just communicating with their schools and teachers and saying “here’s what our family is doing for school” (e.g. ‘schoolwork in morning only – we don’t do any in the afternoon’, or ‘we’re doing the math and the check-in, but we’ll do our own reading and writing lessons’) and there seems to be a lot of flexibility in the responses to that. The LWSD website says “During the mandated school facility closure… teachers will [track] students who are not participating in remote learning or responding to communication. This information will be used to help us reach out to students and families who may need additional support. This information will not be included in students’ official records or used for enrollment or penalties.”

Find the path that works for your family as we move through these unprecedented times.

As a parent educator, when parents ask me “is ____ a problem?” I always come back with: “is it a problem for you or your child, or is it working well for everyone in your family?” If you have found something that works for you, hurray! If not, then hopefully my post gives you some insight into one possible option.

Postscript… LWSD system

This is just for anyone who wants more info about what the programs are that our school is offering.

Starting last week, they are offering remote learning resources, and kids are required to submit schoolwork that will be graded.nThe work is all organized in an online platform called Power School Learning. So, they log in to PSL and most other things are linked from there. (Note: one thing that makes us crazy is that all the different sites have different user names and different log-in info! We’ve created a document in One Note that we can see on all our devices, so it’s easy to look up the passwords anytime / anywhere we need them.)

They have a morning check-in question they can all add a comment to, Wonders vocabulary, Lexia reading, Envision math, Dreambox math, Edutyping, plus materials developed by the teachers: writing activities, science and social studies, listening to a class read-aloud book, and doing activities provided by the music teacher, PE teacher, and counselor. They’re having a Microsoft Teams meeting with their teacher twice a week – these are mostly social check-in times. (Some parents have complained about this, wishing their teachers would teach, but as a teacher myself, I would argue that what the kids need out of this time is the thing that no online app can possibly replicate, and that’s the social-emotional aspects of connecting to their teacher, their classmates – people outside their home.)

For kids who are strong readers, who enjoy screen-based activity, and who don’t need lots of social interaction with peers, it’s a workable program for this public health crisis. But it’s not as good a match for many.

Suddenly Homeschooling

Due to coronavirus, millions of parents across the country (and around the world) are suddenly homeschooling their children. Some may feel prepared (they’re teachers!), some may have all the resources they need at home, but many of us are under-prepared, under-supplied, and also trying to figure out how to manage that along with all of our other responsibilities in this new era. We’re all faking it together and figuring it out on the spur of the moment!

For us, school suddenly disappeared. One afternoon we found out that at the end of the school day, they were closing for two weeks, then the next day that became six weeks. We took a few days off from being responsible. For the first four days, we let our son do whatever he wanted to (well, we limited his screen time to two hours a day, but otherwise he was flexible). But we told him we were just doing that for a few days, and he should expect that on Monday, we’d start homeschooling. That gave me a few days to come up with ideas.

I turned to homeschooling parents for advice, and I’ll share with you here the plan we’ve put together for our nine year old.

But first, let’s say:

Go Easy on Yourself

Don’t put a ton of pressure on yourself! Don’t feel like things have to be perfect!! Don’t worry that this will cause them to fall behind and never catch up. We’re all just going to do the best we can. Luckily, kids are resilient, and they will bounce back from this experience! If some days, you’re exhausted and swamped with your own burdens, don’t feel guilty about using screen time. If you feel like you should be making your child do math homework, but you just need to get the laundry put away, then today becomes Life Skills 101 instead of math, and you teach your child to fold laundry. It’s all OK.

And if you know that trying to homeschool your children would make you miserable, would make them miserable and turn every day into a battle, then don’t do it!! We never want kids to resent “school” so much that they decide they hate learning! I believe that love of learning is the biggest key to success in school and life, so do whatever works for your family to preserve that. Feel free to run with the Free Range philosophy and do whatever whim strikes you for the day, letting your child self guide their learning – reading books all day, doing Lego all day, whatever!

Many parents find that unstructured spontaneity works well for their family, many recommend having a bit more structure than that, so the rest of the post offers some structure and routine in case that is what is helpful to your family, as it is for mine.

Making a Plan

I’ve seen a variety of advice, but this is the one I find the most helpful summary. It’s from Mary Oemig, President Boom Learning (former homeschooler).

Each child should write a plan for the day each morning. Younger kids might need a little help with ideas. Older kids should include open items assigned from teachers.

All kids should include:

1. A reading activity
2. A writing activity
3. A math activity (games are great for younger kids)
4. A science activity (for youngers can be observations about spring during a walk – note changes each day, observe weather, online videos)
5. A social studies activity – history of plagues is relevant, lots of great educational videos on YouTube. 🙂
6. A PE activity – walks and bikes are good. Playing on playground equipment not so much.
7. A plan for playtime/free time.
8. Life skills / chores

Develop a system for family members to communicate to each other “Do Not Disturb” and “Available for Play”. Reinforce respecting whichever system you come up with.
Parents should have a set time during the day to review the plan with each kid to help them learn time management. This is a great opportunity to develop self-management skills.

I suggest that you do not dictate the schedule but rather guide children on developing their own plan.

For those who care: The research source for this approach is Tools of the Mind. They use this method with children as young as pre-school.

The idea of creating categories to complete was really helpful for me. (I’ve been teaching this idea for years when talking about how to choose toys and activities for babies, toddlers, and young children, using the theory of multiple intelligences – read more here.) I decided to build a system of cards for my son.

For each card, he earns either a full point or a half point. He’s not allowed to have any video game screen time before noon, no matter what. After noon, WHEN he has completed 5 points (~2.5 hours) THEN he gets one hour of free choice screen time. He then has to complete 3 more points to earn another hour of screen time, and that’s the maximum for the day.

My husband and I are both working full time from home, so his activities needed to be things he can do mostly independently.

20200317_173352039_iOS

Each card has criteria for what could qualify for completion – sample activities he can choose from. Here are his cards. The first 4 cards are required to complete every day. The others are options to choose from.

  • Reading – 30 minutes. 1 point. Lexia app from school, reading packets from school, or reading a book. To count for school work, it must be a book with a plot. Fiction. Not comics. Paper or ebook is fine. (He loves reading and would read all day, so this is the easy one.)
  • Writing – 20 – 30 minutes. 1 point. Practice on Edutyping app. Journal, write a letter, email, write a book report to share with a family member (we might also start writing Amazon reviews), write reflections on science homework. (He hates writing, so this is our hardest one.)
  • Math – 30 minutes. 1 point. Can use Dreambox or Xtramath – online programs from school district, or complete math packet from school. He can also use apps that drill him on multiplication facts. Sudoku, Numbrix, or other math puzzles. Math heavy board games or card games with parents.
  • Physical Activity – 30 minutes. 1 point. Could walk, bike, roller blade, play catch, etc. (This is a good time to rummage through your garage or closets for that sporting equipment you never use… we’ve got roller blades we hadn’t used in a decade!) He could do Wii sports to count for this, but he must spend a half hour outside every day, so if he does Wii sports, has to plan another outside activity, even if that’s sitting in the sun while reading. (Note: yes, you can still go outside now! Just minimize touching anything others have touched, so no playground time, and keep your distance from others.)
  • Science – 30 minutes. 1 point. Can include an educational video (there’s lots of great science content on video!) or a podcast. Could be a book. Must include something hands-on / active learning. (I teach hands-on science classes, so this one is easy for me… if you’re looking for resources for science learning for kids age 3 – 8, check out my other blog, www.InventorsOfTomorrow.com.)
  • Social Studies – 30 minutes, 1 point. Can include video, podcast, or book. Can cover history, other cultures, social/emotional skills, and so on. (We’re thinking of podcasts like Short and Curly – an ethics / philosophy podcast from Australia, or Dad and I Love History, or Forever Ago. Let us know what else you like!)
  • Call his grandparents. Half point. We haven’t seen them in person for two weeks because we don’t want to risk exposing them to anything (they’re in their 80’s), so it’s nice to connect via Skype. His grandma is teaching him some Spanish as they talk.
  • Play recorder for ten minutes. Or make art. Half point.
  • “Life skills” – like folding laundry, cooking, cleaning. (One of the things we can all do with our coronavirus break is bring back Home Economics and shop / Industrial Arts classes! Whatever work you need to do, have your child do it with you! Half point.
  • Social Time Online – Zoom or Skype calls with friends, family, church members, and so on. Half point.

At the beginning of each morning, we have a stack of cards. He gets to decide what activity to do first. I flip the card over, and write when he started doing that activity. When he reports back, I write what he did so I have a record. I’m not super strict about the 30 minutes – anywhere in the 20 – 45 minute range counts. He can combine some activities: for example, if he plays recorder for his grandma on Skype, that counts for two half point cards. If he draws while he listens to a podcast, that counts for art and social studies. If he writes about science, that could count for both. (He has to ask permission to double count before starting the activity.)

So, you’ll notice that if you add up all those cards, it does not add up to maybe 4-5ish hours, not 6.5 hours, which is how long his school day was. (And if he doubles up activities, it’s less than four hours.) Parents might worry that they’re not doing “enough” if it’s not 6.5 hours of school work. Here’s the deal – at school, they’re not getting 6.5 hours really! They’re eating lunch, having recess, walking down the hall to music class, waiting for their turn with the teacher, and so on. You can get more done in 3 – 4 hours one-on-one. And they (and you) will have time off from worrying about “school.”

Having the flexibility to decide what order he does things in has been super helpful to him. And if he’s enjoying a science show and wants to watch two, he can do that, he just knows it will take longer to get through his points and longer till that screen time, but he can make that choice himself, which he likes.

So, I’ve created the structure and the requirements, but give him a lot of freedom of choice within that structure. So far it’s working well for us… hopefully it continues to.

And if you think it sounds super hard and time consuming, I promise you it’s not! I literally have been working 8 – 10 hours every day and squeezing management of his “school” in and around that, and it’s just some quick check-ins every half hour. And if you think I must have an angel child for this to work, I should say that my son is diagnosed as autistic, and suspected ADHD, and we know the principal at the school very well, and the resource room teacher very well, because he spends a lot of time with them! But, for him having this structure, with the freedom of choice within the structure is exactly what he needs.

If you have advice, suggestions for resources, or questions, just add them to the comments!

Toddler Activities in the Time of Coronavirus

In the Seattle area, lots of activities are canceled due to concerns about transmitting coronavirus, but busy toddlers don’t understand this and still need to burn off energy. I’ve written a series in the past about “cheap dates with toddlers.” Here’s some that will keep you busy without putting you indoors in close contact with others.

  • Egg Hunts – need a rainy day play activity for any day of the year? Plastic egg hunts – they’re not just for Easter anymore!
  • Nature Shopping – collecting rocks, leaves, pinecones, or photos.
  • Explore New Parks – covers St. Edward’s, O.O. Denny, and Big Finn Hill in Kenmore. Even on cool rainy days the park is a lot of fun as long as you have appropriate clothing. (Here are some “low contact parks” that may be best options in the coronavirus era.)
  • Counting Cars” on any street corner… kept my boy busy for hours!
  • Go to a Dog Park – even if you don’t have a dog!
  • Construction Theatre – do you have a construction project in your neighborhood? Take your child by from time to time to see the progress.
  • Rock Shops and Plant Nurseries – offer fun outdoor exploration and an opportunity for some basic botany and geology lessons.
  • Go for walks around your neighborhood, or take a drive to somewhere new to walk. You can prolong a walk with kids by making a walk an ABC scavenger hunt. They need to find the alphabet in sequence along your walk in the letters on street signs, garbage bins, license plates, etc. Could do the same w/numbers. Walk until you have found all the letters in order. Also, you could make it a scavenger hunt with a list you compose before you leave home. List all the things you have to pass before you can come home…a green car, a black and white cat, a garbage bin, etc. Or take dice with you and roll at each intersection – odds left, evens right – or adjust if you have 3 options. nice way to explore the neighborhood and fun for them. Or in a downtown area, follow the lights… at every intersection, press the button for the walk light crossing both ways – whichever one says walk first, that’s the way you go.
  • Plan daily Skype calls with grandparents, your friends, your kids’ friends. Have someone else entertain your child for a little while – you get a break, they get to bond, and reduce isolation for all. Folks can read stories, play charades or do puppet shows, do art together, sing songs together, and more.
  • Teach life skills – if you’re doing laundry, can your child help you sort socks? If you’re putting away dishes, can they find all the spoons? If you’re gardening, give them a trowel to dig with.

Other ideas:

You can also check out my “Fun with Toddlers” series, which include songs, games, crafts and books for toddlers, all related to themes, such as Transportation, Spring, Ducks, Stars, and so on.

Resilience

This is a companion piece for “Building Resilience in Children“. This post offers a deeper look at theories of resilience, and links to some key research in the field.

What is Resilience?

So, what is resilience? And how do you know if you have it?

If you were lucky enough to never face any challenges, you’d never know if you have resilience (and honestly, you probably wouldn’t, because we build resilience by facing and mastering challenges in our lives.)

But, for most of us… challenges come to us on a far too regular basis, right?

Types of Challenges We Might Face

Anytime we face a life transition, or a new developmental stage, that’s a challenge. (These predictable developmental cycles are called “periods of disequilibrium.”) Whether that’s a toddler who falls down many times before they learn to walk, or the new parent who has to cope with all the tantrums that might cause. There’s midlife crises, there’s the challenges of aging… those are “expected challenges” that any developmental psychologist can tell you are typical, but that doesn’t mean they’re not hard for the people going through them.

There’s also all the unexpected challenges – the fall in the mud puddle, the flat tire, the spilled milk, the flu.

And then there’s interpersonal challenges – the boss who makes unfair demands, the girlfriend who says she’s “just not that into you,” or the parent who lets you down.

Challenges just keep on coming.

But… and people in the midst of adversity hate it when you say this…  each of those moments of adversity is a learning experience. Each one offers “opportunities for personal growth.” Each one helps us learn how to stretch and how to bounce back.

Bouncing Back

One way of defining resilience is “doing better than expected in difficult circumstances.” We all have times when it seems like life is trying to knock us down, in small ways or in big ways. The question is: how will we respond? It seems there are three main pathways of response: Will we let adversity pin us down? Or will we bounce back up the status quo? Or end standing stronger and taller than ever before? And how can our family and our community and our beliefs help us to bounce back?

Image showing three responses to adversity - defeat, return to the status quo, and empowerment

Resilience is a really complex issue. There are lots of factors that influence our response to adversity. Several different models have been developed to examine factors. I’ll share a combination of those that shows my best current understanding.

Protective Factors vs. Risk Factors

The reality is that hard things come into everyone’s life at some point. Sometimes they’re expected challenges like a move to a new home, but often adverse circumstances arrive out of the blue – an illness, a home break-in, or a job layoff might appear in our metaphorical inbox. When a challenge hits, we start running with it, and we figure out our response as we go along.

running with it

Several things affect our response and whether or not we end up in a good place in the end. The risk factors drag us down. They challenge our ability to cope and to recover from this challenge, and increase the chance of poor outcomes. The protective factors – things that make it easier for us to cope – lift us up and make it more likely we’ll have a positive, empowered result.

risk and protective

What tips the balance for good outcomes is when the protective factors outweigh the risk factors. When we have so many good things going for us that the hard times are easy to overcome.

seesaw

Among the factors that influence our response, some are on the individual level  – specific to that person and the ways they interact with the world, some are found within  their network of family, close friends and communities,  and some are influences from the broader society as a whole.

levels

Individual Factors

Some people are just inherently more resilient than others, no matter what life throws at them. Dr. Thomas Boyce has researched the human stress response for 40 years, and he says some people are dandelions, and some are orchids.

Dandelions are people who can go through almost anything, and be unfazed by it all. Orchids are a lot more sensitive – they’re more vulnerable to stress, and need more support to weather the storms. But given the right nurturing care, they can thrive and become incredibly beautiful.

So what individual factors help to make us more or less resilient?

  • Internal Locus of Control – Developmental psychologist Emmy Werner found that resilient people have a strong internal locus – they believe they are in control of their own destinies. Even if bad things happen to them, they feel they can choose how to let that impact them.
  • Confidence – Resilient people have confidence in their own competence. And they have a growth mindset… instead of thinking of themselves as “not good” at something, they think “I’m not good at it yet. If I just keep working hard, I bet I’ll figure it out.”
  • Temperamentit’s easier to be resilient when you have a sense of humor about life, when you’re naturally easy-going, naturally flexible, and calm.
  • Mental and physical health – Our mental health is influenced by many things beyond our control – genetic, epigenetic, and environmental. Depression can make it supremely hard to bounce back from challenges, and anxiety can mean that even small challenges quickly become overwhelming as you spin into worry about how much worse it might become. Physical illness and disability are challenging circumstances on their own, often creating chronic adversity, and they can also make it harder to bounce back from other challenges. Good mental health and physical health is a huge protective factor.
  • Goals – Having goals you’re working toward helps with resilience – it’s the “eyes on the prize” focus that helps you push through the hard times. Resilient individuals tend to have things outside themselves that give them a reason to get up every day. This can be an interest or passion, such as music or art. This can be big dreams they’re working toward. Or, it can be knowing that other people are counting on them.
  • Perception – According to psychologist George Bonanno, a key individual factor is  how we interpret difficult circumstances. Do we perceive an event as traumatic or as an opportunity to learn and grow? Sometimes even something tragic, while very sad in the short term, might also be a powerful life event that changes someone for the better in the long term. This positive perception… finding meaning in loss… is more likely for people who have a spiritual or religious faith.

Which brings us to the next set of protective factors.

Family and Close Community

Our family of origin, and the close communities that we interact with throughout our lives (like a child’s school, an adult’s workplace, or a church community) have a huge impact on resilience. When these circles are healthy, they provide the key protective factor of a secure base.

From these communities, we learn our values – what does it mean to be a good person? We learn about faith – whether that’s a belief in a higher power, or a belief in a greater good, faith can provide a strong beacon of hope in the darkness of despair. We learn our stories. The most powerful stories are when members of our communities say “we’ve had good times and bad times, but we are a strong, resilient people and we keep moving forward together.”

In these communities, we find our key relationships. Researchers at Harvard found that no matter the source of hardship, the single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable, committed relationship with a supportive adult. Whether that’s a parent, friend, clergy, teacher or coach. That person offers us emotional support, they help us to see our own strengths, they teach us how to plan and how to cope in healthy ways.

In these communities, we can learn that we are valued, and that we can contribute in meaningful ways. If we have clear roles, we can see that our commitment is essential, and sometimes on our darkest days, what keeps us going is knowing that other people are counting on us, and we have to show up for them.

These communities can also be a source of concrete support – a ride to the doctor’s office after an injury, a bed to crash on when a relationship falls apart, a loan when we can’t pay a bill, someone to watch our kids for us – all these “little things” can help carry us through a hard spot.

Now, the problem is that our families and our communities are not always healthy. And just as a healthy home base can build resilience, an unhealthy family is devastating to our long-term resilience.

There is some really important research in health and mental health called the ACE’s study – where ACE stands for adverse childhood experiences.

Researchers asked people about their childhood – had they experienced things such as abuse, witnessed domestic violence, had parents with mental health issues or addiction or who were incarcerated, or had experienced homelessness. 60% of people have one or more of these experiences in childhood. The more you have, the less resilient you’ll be as an adult. About 12% of people have an ACE score of 4 or higher. With a score of 4 or higher, you’re four times more likely to experience addiction, 3 times more likely to have heart disease, respiratory disease and diabetes, far more likely to experience mental health challenges, and 6 times more likely to say you never feel optimism or hope.

The good news about ACE’s is that they can be overcome.

Knowing about the negative impact of ACE’s and working to mitigate it is the first step. Another key step  is connecting to healthy relationships and healthy communities. The research is really clear that even for kids from very toxic home environments, even just one healthy relationship with one positive mentor in the community is a huge boost on their path to recovery.

Now let’s look at the impact of Society and Resources.

Societal Factors and Resources

We have a strong cultural narrative in America – the cultural narrative that everyone can succeed if they “just try hard enough.”

But we don’t have a level playing field in America – we’re not all starting from the same place. A person who is living in poverty, in a crime-ridden neighborhood, where drug use is a common escape from the pain of living just doesn’t have the same resilience resources available to them. Or, even if someone had all the other advantages they could have, if they happen to have dark skin, or happen to be female, or gay, or trans, or disabled, or non-Christian, they have to carry the weight of systematic oppression. click to add That weight makes it harder to magically “bounce back” from challenges.

It is so much easier to be resilient if you happen to have been born into a stable, white, middle class family. If you made it through childhood with an ACE score of 0. If in adulthood, you’ve always had resources… so whatever challenge might arise, you’ve got back-up plans: car insurance, home insurance, health insurance. Flexible hours at work, paid sick leave, and short-term disability pay. Cash in the bank. A safe, warm home. People to take care of you, people to take care of your kids. If you’ve got the skills to research and access any services that you need. If you can speak with educated words and a voice of authority and white skin that afford you respectful treatment by those you encounter. All of these things make it easy to “bounce back” from whatever happens.

So, let’s start talking about how we can build resilience in ourselves and in others.

Building Resilience

At the Societal Level

Let’s first look at this societal level, and what we can do to tip the balance.

societal

We can work to dismantle systematic oppression. Respect and support cultural identities as tools for empowerment. Help increase equitable access to concrete resources and safe communities. Support organizations which work to increase hope in impoverished communities through the arts, access to job opportunities, and tools to help people reach for their dreams.

At the family and community level:

  • Think about the Stories We Tell. Stories can mobilize sources of faith, hope, and cultural traditions. When you’re facing difficult times, it helps to feel like you’re a part of something bigger. There are three types of stories we can tell – 1) our people are always successful (unfortunately, this can bestow a sense of entitlement if you as an individual are successful or a sense of personal failure if you’re not at the moment), 2) our people are never successful and things always get worse for us, or 3) our people have a history of weathering challenge and emerging stronger than before. That third kind is the best for building resilience for future adversity.
  • Build Relationships, and Be a Mentor. Remember, a key factor in resilience for children or for anyone is having a relationship with someone who believes in them, encourages them to be their best possible selves, and helps them keep moving when life seems too hard. You can be one of those people – not just for your friends and family, but for anyone you encounter in the broader community. Any time we interact with anyone in a way that reflects their inherent worth and dignity, we build their resilience.
  • Invite and Value Contributions. Let people know that their presence in the community matters, and that they can make valuable contributions. This is even in the little things. I’ll occasionally ask a child to help me as I set up or tidy – even a three year old can be asked to help carry something. Sometimes kids are surprised to be asked, because we often don’t ask them. But when we do, and we thank them for their help, it increases their sense of efficacy.
  • Concrete Support. Lending a helping hand to a parent with their hands full, offering a ride to someone recovering from an injury, helping someone work on a resume, passing on news about available affordable housing, or accompanying someone to a support group meeting are just some examples of simple things we can do to help people get back on their feet after a challenge. Keep your eyes open for your opportunities.

At the individual level:

  • Build others’ internal locus of control. Support others in viewing themselves as having control over their destiny. You can use a framework of “I have… I am… I can…” that encourages someone facing hardship to think about what resources they have, to tell themselves a positive story of who they are, and to think about concrete steps that they can take to help improve their situation.
  • Support a growth-based mindset. Carol Dweck has researched what she calls “the Growth Based Mindset” which is a belief that we are capable of learning more and doing better. And Angela Duckworth has researched what she calls “Grit” as a vital mechanism in achieving success despite barriers. One way to build these things is to talk about mistakes, failures, and setbacks as normal parts of learning, not as reasons to quit. Remind yourself and those around you that everyone runs up against things they can’t do. The ones who succeed are the ones who pick themselves up and try again.
  • In terms of Temperament – some people are naturally more fearful, and when things seem hard, their anxiety takes over. Researchers at Yale have learned that if we accommodate too much, it actually makes anxiety worse. If we tell someone “I know that’s scary, so you don’t have to do it”, it actually validates that this thing is way too scary and way too powerful. Instead, we can say to ourselves and others “It’s OK to feel scared. We all feel scared. Let’s make a plan for how we can do it anyway.”
  • We know Mental Health and Physical Health are huge protective factors. So, at the societal level, we can be doing public policy advocacy to increase access to health care. But, at the individual level, with ourselves and others, we can think about self care. We can remember that it’s important to prioritize self care – it helps to help recharge our batteries to give us enough energy to face whatever challenges may come.
  • We know that having a goal in mind helps us to keep pushing forward. Ask people to tell you about their dreams. Help them to figure out what the next manageable step is toward achieving that dream. Emphasize that even when challenges seem hard in the short term, we can work to overcome them and not let them block us from that long-term goal.
  • Perception – Learn how to re-frame challenges for yourself, and share with others what you have learned. There are three aspects to re-framing:
    • If you find yourself believing that when bad things happen it’s always your fault, try reframing to “sometimes bad things happen that are beyond my control. What I can control is how I respond to them.”
    • Stay focused on fixing the specific problem rather than thinking it’s a sign of some global problem. For example, if you don’t get a job you were hoping for, remember that it’s not that you are fundamentally unemployable. It’s just that one job that said no…. keep trying till you find the right fit.
    • View problems as impermanent – it will get better in time, and there are steps you can take to help it improve.

In the end, some of the most important protective factors that build resilience and increase positive outcomes  are the stories that we tell ourselves about the challenges that we face, and the stories that we tell those in our community about who we are, and what we’re capable of. If we believe that we are strong, and can overcome anything, the chances are much higher that we will.