According to a paper in the journal, Developmental psychology, ‘two year-olds whose mothers intervene more in their play end up less emotionally resilient than children who are left to figure out stuff by themselves’.

Indeed, psychologist Jonathan Haidt, believes we have birthed a generation of children who are unable to deal with the harsh realities of life.

Ask school teachers the number one attribute they wish primary /secondary school children had, and nine times out of ten the instinctive response is “Resilience”.

After reading last week’s article, titled ‘How to Help Children and Teens Overcome Low Self-esteem’, an old school friend, who has worked with children for over fifteen years, sent me the following message;

“Great blog, Segun! Interesting that you don’t mention resilience at all though, as there is a direct correlation between that and raising self-esteem. Children who cope with adversity, and who don’t give in to peer pressure have higher self-esteem, so learning how to cope when things get tough is key.”

I couldn’t agree more.

However before delving in, I must emphasise the importance of ensuring children (and adults) always feel free to discuss their anxieties and worries. An environment in which an individual is afraid of airing his / her worries for fear of being perceived as a failure or weak, is not only dangerous but wholly destructive.

We should encourage children to air their worries and seek help whenever they feel the need to . Not necessarily in order to solve their problems for them, but so they know they’re not alone.

Indeed, we adults should do likewise. The days of keeping inner turmoil and pain bottled-up for fear of been a burden to others must forever be laid to rest and never allowed to return. Countless potential wasted, and too many lives lost.

Two of the most effective ways in which to build children’s resilience are;

1. Explore

And

2. Competition


Explore


As a result of a never-ending cycle of negative news, we tend to watch our children’s every step; ensuring they don’t play with anything dangerous or stray too far off track. And quite right too! After-all, nobody wants a child to be hurt in any way.

But are we micro-managing them to the point of paranoia?

The more we protect, protect, protect, the less children are able to figure things out for themselves; and hence, the more ill-equipped to handle the curve-balls life will inevitably throw their way.

We need to loosen the reins a little, and allow them to take some risks – push the boundaries, and yes, fail a few times; ultimately enabling them to work things out for themselves.

Competition

As against being frowned upon, competition should be a vital component of education. For it prepares children for real life.

Unfortunately, we have cultivated a culture of rewarding children for just taking part. I’m all for encouraging and enabling, but by rewarding kids for simply taking part, we are not serving their best interests.

As a friend of mine said a few days ago, “Will all one thousand people that apply for a job vacancy be given the position?? No, they won’t. The job will go to the best candidate. That’s the reality of life. We should empower children to handle the pressure of competing, not wrap them in cotton wool.”

I recall my acute irritation some years back, after reading about government plans to make school sports less competitive. It was like saying we no longer wished to groom winners!

Life is competitive, and full to the brim with pressure – good SATs results, GCSE results, A Levels results, apprenticeship, university, degree result, a good job, climbing the ladder, responsibilities – family, children etc etc. The list is endless!

A few weeks ago, I asked the children in one of my Creative Writing, Reading, and Drama Classes to choose a page from their favourite book and practise reading it aloud; emphasising the importance of good delivery, via positioning / stance, eloquence, volume, clarity, expression, and confidence. I told them there would be a prize for the best reader, and that the winner would most likely be the one who practised the most.

When one of the kids asked if there would be prizes for everyone else, I replied;

“I would love to give prizes to all of you, but only the winner will get one, because in life you will often have to compete. What matters most to me is your success; and to help you succeed I must prepare you for life’s pressures”.

To my delight, all nineteen children prepared thoroughly, and most of their readings were excellent. Indeed, I was so pleased that I gave prizes to the top four. Yes, I broke the rule a little, but they really did deserve it. And to those that didn’t win, I asked the following question;

“What did you learn from those that won?”

Their Reply: “Read slowly and clearly, with expression, and with confidence.”

Me: “Good. You may not have won this time, but if you keep practising you could win next time. So, it’s up to you – you can feel sorry for yourself, or you can try again – practise even harder, and determine to win the next reading competition.”

To say I was thrilled with their positive response is a gross understatement.

What am I saying here?

Simple

We not only need to prepare children for the realities of life, but also teach them the importance of that age-old saying, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.’

Finally, permit me to give you a wonderful example of how this works.

After laying the foundation for a new story, I asked the children attending an after school creating writing and drama club I run in Hertfordshire, to not only develop and complete the story but also practise reading it, in order to deliver their piece de resistance to the whole class the following week.

One of the kids, a seven year old girl, approached me after the session.

Young Girl: “Sir, I know I can write a good story, but I’m really shy. I don’t think I can read it in front of the class.”

Me: “I understand, and that’s okay. But I want you to know something – there is nothing you cannot do if you set your mind to it. If you can write it, then you can definitely read it. In-fact the best person to read your story is you.

Can you do something for me?

Young Girl: “What?”

Me: “When you finish writing your story, practise reading it out loud every night, then when you come next week you can decide whether or not you want to do it.”

She agreed.

To my pleasant surprise, she decided to take the plunge and read her story to the whole class.

Not only was her voice loud and clear, but she read so eloquently; and with such expression!

I was shocked and elated.

Afterwards she told me;

“I’ve never done anything like that before. I’m so excited. I loved it.”

Me: “You were brilliant! I’m so proud of you. How did you do it?”

Young girl: “I practised every night. I kept reading it aloud over and over again, using different voices and stuff. And I also practised in front of my mum. Now I know can do it. I feel amazing!”

A little pressure, in addition to encouragement and belief can do wonders. If we don’t encourage children to dare to win, then we’ll never know what they’re really capable of.

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