I ran a race this year. It was my first one in roughly 20 years. I finished in 19,623rd place – my worst ever placing. 10 months earlier when I started to train for it I could only jog half a mile – that’s how unfit I was. As I walked home part of me wanted to give up and try archery or table tennis instead.
“So up he rose to run once more,
And with a new commit
He resolved that win or lose
At least he wouldn’t quit.”
But I didn’t quit. I dug deep, kept going and it paid off in the end as I managed to finish my first ever marathon (Paris) feeling strong and wanting to do it again. The Berlin marathon now beckons in September.
There were numerous occasions when I needed to be resilient and not give in to negative thoughts, or take the easy option. Resilience is defined as an ability to recover from, or adjust easily to, misfortune or change.
Helping young people to develop a resilient attitude is a fundamental part of education, and something which boarding schools do very well, particularly in an age where change is the norm. Every one of us will have to face change and disappointment, many times over in our lives. Victor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist who survived two and a half years in Nazi concentration camps, made this case in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” and said, “we can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can always choose how we respond.”
How we help our children approach misfortune or change will have a significant say in the people they will eventually become. A resilient child is able to adapt when faced with adversity and feels competent when solving new problems. They view obstacles as challenges to rise to, instead of stressors to avoid.
Heather Hanbury, Headmistress at Wimbledon High School recently said that ‘failing well’ is something we can, and should, teach our children: to take failure on the chin, to pick themselves up & try again. It is a useful skill at any age. So how do we encourage children to ‘fail well’ and develop intellectual robustness? We start by rewarding children who don’t always ask for help immediately, who don’t want everything spoon-fed to them. We watch for children who always get top marks and encourage them to take more risks with their learning, attempting more difficult questions & projects. We ensure a positive atmosphere where children help, and are helped, by their peers. It is healthy that children can share their disappointments and gain support from teachers and friends.
So what are the keys to resiliency?
- A sense of optimism – the ability to believe things will work out, in spite of evidence to the contrary. This doesn’t mean burying our head in the sand but does mean being a glass half full not half empty person, and taking responsibility for choosing how to act and feel.
- Physical exercise – a commitment to physical health & activity, no matter what. There is so much research to show that physical exercise and mental health go hand in hand.
- Problem solving capability – the creative capacity to work through a challenge in various ways. Having a growth mindset and believing our contribution can make a difference to an outcome. Remembering the importance of praising the effort not the achievement, the journey not the destination.
- Social connection – having a network of resources & support via friends, family and other relationships. It’s not healthy to have just one or two best friends but to have a wide circle of friends, one of the reasons why we mix up the Forms every year. We need people to talk to and confide in when something worries us.
- Flexibility – the ability to adapt to unexpected scenarios. Helping children to understand that things don’t always go as planned. Being flexible and able to change is an important characteristic of resilience. When a child is going through a life transition or big change, this can be a great learning opportunity to show how change can be dealt with and perceived in a positive way.
- Being able to express emotions – the honest identification & communication of emotions without habitual negativity. It’s OK to say we’re nervous, or frightened, or disappointed, or proud, or sad.
“And to his dad he sadly said,
‘I didn’t do too well.’
‘To me, you won,’ his father said.
‘You rose each time you fell.’
For all of life is like that race.
With ups and downs and all.
And all you have to do to win,
Is rise each time you fall.”
Great boarding schools help their pupils to learn to cope with disappointment, failure and change within a safe and caring environment so that they develop the lifelong skill of resilience.