Resilience in Children and Youth – Balancing Protection and Letting Go
Editor Albany UU | Feb 05, 2020

From our Soul Matters partners: In our highly competitive, individualistic culture, including in our UU history, we prop up a heroic and individualistic form of resilience.  “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”; “You’re stronger than you think.”; “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”; The cultural message is clear: resilience depends on you – your individual toughness and inner strength. However, while resilience has a lot to do with what is inside us, it equally depends on what is between us. 

We know that children need encouragement, protection and guidance from the adults in their lives – and that we adults are often barraged with new information and advice. Fostering resilience in children and youth is a huge challenge for parents, caregivers, family members, teachers, mentors and other caring adults. We worry about the consequences of letting children and youth try things on their own and fail. Forget “helicopter parents” that hover over their high school and college aged children and try to intervene when they see their children struggle; now we see “bulldozer parents” like the ones involved with college admission scandals, who plow through every barrier they see in order to ensure their child’s success. There is legitimacy in wanting to protect our children and youth from shouldering an overwhelming load of adverse experiences. And we also know that in trying to protect our kids from all pain, we remove from them emotional and social essential tools they need to experience the world in healthy ways and to weather life’s storm of disappointment and trouble.  

According to the Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University 

Learning to cope with manageable threats is critical for the development of resilience. Not all stress is harmful. There are numerous opportunities in every child’s life to experience manageable stress—and with the help of supportive adults, this “positive stress” can be growth-promoting. Over time, we become better able to cope with life’s obstacles and hardships, both physically and mentally.

Research has identified a common set of factors that predispose children to positive outcomes in the face of significant adversity

  • supportive adult-child relationships;
  • a sense of self-efficacy and perceived control;
  • opportunities to strengthen adaptive skills and self-regulatory capacities;
  • sources of faith, hope, and cultural traditions.

Of course, the most committed adult-child relationships are in families. But in our UU community and in our Religious Education ministries we work to give children and youth opportunities to learn social skills like clear and respectful communications, to have self-efficacy and some actual control by giving them a say in their covenants which guide their interactions; to practice meditation and ways to identify feelings to help them self-regulate and of course; to teach them the sources of our faith tradition, celebrate our traditions; and to help grow their souls, deepen their questions, and help them appreciate the mysteries of life and the universe. 

Whether you volunteer in RE, support the youth in their fundraising efforts, come to multigenerational events, work to connect with children and youth in small ways like interacting at Coffee Hour, or pledge to the congregation to help with the costs of our ministry to and with children and youth, I thank you. Resilience is fostered in all our relationships in our religious community. 

Support for Adults as Faith Formation Guides

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