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Building Resilience in Children through Hurricane Sandy

November 2nd, 2012

By Marion Walsh, Esq.

Many of us still lack power and heat after the storm and schools are still not open.  Some have homes destroyed or have suffered worse losses. These adverse conditions, for most of us, are mere inconveniences, but for children with disabilities, the changes in routines can be devastating.  The hurricane gives us an opportunity to remember the value of  helping our children become resilient—one of the most important traits we can give them to prepare them for adulthood .  “Resilience is a universal capacity which allows a person, group or community to prevent, minimize or overcome the damaging effects of adversity,” according to Dr. Edith Grotberg, author of A Guide to Promoting Resilience in Children: Strengthening the Human Spirit and a leader of the International Resilience Project.   Children who are resilient have the capacity to bounce back after adversity and use negative experiences to become stronger.  Resilience is particularly important for children with disabilities.  Many think of resilience as a character trait, but it is actually a learned process of adapting successfully to difficult situations. Parents are the primary teachers and models of resilient behavior.

In this particular storm, remind your children that the storm just brought passing inconvenience and that things will return to normal.  Stick to routines and rules as much as possible.  Also, if you do not have power, use this opportunity when children are not plugged in, to foster family activities, such as card or board games.   Remind your child of everything that he or she has, of inner resources and strengths and of all the ways of coping.   If you are able, you may wish to work with your child on ways to help others who were more affected by the storm.   Of you may interest your child in a study of similar storms and the link to climate change.  Take the opportunity to focus the positive in your current situation, such as the fact that you all have a little down time and are safe and healthy.

On a broader scale, building resilience long term Restakes time and work.  Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg author A Parent’s Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Your Child Roots and Wings, has developed, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, seven “C”s of resilience, as resilience is not simple.”  The traits are Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character, Contribution, Coping and Control. Parents can use these guidelines to help their children recognize their abilities and inner resources.

Stated differently, Dr. Grotberg, recommends that to overcome adversities, children draw from three sources of resilience features labeled: I HAVE, I AM, I CAN. What they draw from each of the three sources may be described as follows:

I HAVE

  • People around me I trust and who love me, no matter what
  • People who set limits for me so I know when to stop before there is danger or trouble
  • People who show me how to do things right by the way they do things
  • People who want me to learn to do things on my own
  • People who help me when I am sick, in danger or need to learn

I AM

  • A person people can like and love
  • Glad to do nice things for others and show my concern
  • Respectful of myself and others
  • Willing to be responsible for what I do
  • Sure things will be all right

I CAN

  • Talk to others about things that frighten me or bother me
  • Find ways to solve problems that I face
  • Control myself when I feel like doing something not right or dangerous
  • Figure out when it is a good time to talk to someone or to take action
  • Find someone to help me when I need it

See A Guide to Promoting Resilience in Children: Strengthening the Human Spirit Edith H. Grotberg, Ph.D., The International Resilience Project

For adults,  who are modelers of behavior, the American Psychological Association lists “10 Ways to Build Resilience”, which are: (1) maintaining good relationships with close family members, friends and others; (2) to avoid seeing crises or stressful events as unbearable problems; (3) to accept circumstances that cannot be changed; (4) to develop realistic goals and move towards them; (5) to take decisive actions in adverse situations; (6) to look for opportunities of self-discovery after a struggle with loss; (7) developing self-confidence; (8) to keep a long-term perspective and consider the stressful event in a broader context; (9) to maintain a hopeful outlook, expecting good things and visualizing what is wished; (10) to take care of one’s mind and body, exercising regularly, paying attention to one’s own needs and feelings.

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