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All teenagers can benefit from being resilient and the good news is that it can be taught, which is why it’s a great topic for discussion in schools and for parents to endorse at home.

What is resilience?

‘Resilience’ is an engineering term meaning the force or pressure a structure can withstand before it breaks. For people, it’s the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity.

Why is resilience important for teenagers?

Having resilience reduces the effects of negative or stressful situations on wellbeing. When teenagers develop resilience, they have access to, and know how to apply, skills that help them to cope during challenging times such as exams.

How is resilience displayed?

Teenagers who are resilient have:

  • emotional awareness and the ability to regulate their emotions
  • control over their impulses
  • an optimistic mindset
  • flexible and accurate thinking
  • empathy towards others
  • believe that they can achieve things (self-efficacy)
  • a willingness to seek help when needed. 

Emotional awareness and ability to regulate emotions

Emotional awareness is the ability to understand and express how we feel in response to things.

Resilient people are comfortable with their emotions and express them appropriately. They understand that they control their emotions and thoughts, and not the other way around. Resilient people may sometimes feel scared or sad, but they don’t get stuck in feeling that way or allow those emotions to stop them coping with a situation and moving on from it.

Impulse control

We all have impulses to do and say things when we feel angry, annoyed or frustrated, or are in any other highly emotive state. But these things are not always in our best interest or helpful to others.

Being resilient doesn’t mean curbing these impulses, but it does require you to stop acting on impulses that don’t serve you well.

Impulse control can be learned through the following four-step process:

  1. Stop and think (delay your response).
  2. Take deep breaths.
  3. Before you say anything, think of three possible responses. Choose the most constructive response.
  4. Respond.

Optimistic mindset

Learning how to be optimistic can help protect against depression and anxiety. Optimism involves learning to think positively about the future – even when things go wrong. It’s about looking objectively at a situation, and making a conscious decision to focus on the positives – even in the most trying times. Optimistic people are happier, more engaged, more successful and better problem solvers than negative people. Optimism isn’t about seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses. It’s about knowing that life can be difficult and that you will encounter challenges, but feeling confident that you’ll be able to cope with whatever comes your way.

Flexible and accurate thinking

Being resilient is about being flexible. Being able to see a situation from different perspectives and to check if what we’re thinking is in fact correct helps us to build resilience.

We don’t often know why people say or act the way they do, and we don’t have any control over that. However, we can control our reactions to others and to situations. Flexible and accurate thinking allows you to come up with alternative solutions to a problem. Being able to come up with a Plan B, or even a Plan C, is a vital aspect of being resilient.

Empathy

Empathy is the ability to recognise another person’s feelings and to respond accordingly and respectfully. Understanding another person’s emotions by putting ourselves in their place helps us to develop positive relationships with others. You are helping your child to develop empathy when you say things like, ‘How would you feel if…?’

You could use the following scenarios with your child to illustrate empathy:

  • a friend is being bullied
  • a friend’s pet dies
  • a friend fails an exam
  • a team mate loses the match for your side.

Self-efficacy

Psychologist Albert Bandura has defined self-efficacy as a person’s belief in their ability to succeed in specific situations or in accomplishing a specific task. Self-efficacy can play a major role in how someone approaches achieving goals, performing tasks and overcoming challenges.

Help your child to develop self-efficacy by asking them:

  • What three things have you done in the past week that you did well?
  • How did these make you feel?
  • What three things have you completed in the past few months that other people have noticed?
  • How did these make you feel?

Willingness to seek help and support

We all need help at times. Resilient people know when to ask for help and will reach out to others when they’re going through a tough time. You can encourage your child to develop help-seeking behaviours and reward them when they display them.

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