Resilience: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change
We — parents and teachers — spend a lot of time encouraging and teaching our children to be resilient.
Resilience is necessary to survive the chaos of daily life. Without resilience, we’d all be quivering messes at the end of each day. This is what we’re taught.
As a teacher, I’ve frequently given praise, handed out merit awards and written report comments focusing on a child’s demonstrated resilience.
As a parent, I’ve told my children how proud I am of their persistence and resilience.
Resilience is the good guy — there to help us.
Or is it? Is resilience all it’s cracked up to be?
Is there a cost?
I’m becoming increasingly convinced the focus on the importance of resilience is coming at a cost, especially for our children who are on the autism spectrum.
That cost is wellbeing.
Two recent events have hammered this home for me.
The first was when a colleague was telling me about a child she works with. The girl is in Year 1, diagnosed ASD (possibly Asperger’s). The class was completing an independent writing task at their desks. The room was silent. Everyone was working.
The child in question had her head down, pencil moving across the page — for all intents and purposes, engaged and working hard.
Upon a closer look, though, she had silent tears streaming down her face.
She was asked, ‘Are you okay?’
She nodded, writing furiously. The tears kept falling. She had a task to do and although it was distressing her, she knew she had to get it done.
Score one for Resilience.
Negative one for Wellbeing.
The second event still brings me to tears even though it was over a week ago.
Geordie told me he wanted to attend the school swimming carnival. I cannot emphasise how huge this decision was. He had no intention of entering races but was keen to participate in the free-time swimming at the end of the day.
New rules in our state say children must pass a swim test if they are to be allowed to access the deeper swimming pools. There are three components to this test — all designed to appease the authorities the child will be safe should he get into difficulty in the deeper water.
Geordie is not a strong swimmer. He practised several times for this test. I knew it was going to be touch and go if he passed.
When he came home after the carnival, I asked him how the day had gone. He didn’t pass the test, he said, but he’d been able to swim in the smaller pool and had a good day with his mate.
Resilience — score one.
I received a phone call, about an hour later, from one of his teachers.
Turns out he had a crap day. He didn’t swim (even though he was allowed to go in the smaller pool) and spent the day sobbing on the benches. No tears — just heaving, gut-wrenching sobs that didn’t stop despite every effort from his mate and his wonderful teachers to find out what was wrong.
The only question he could answer, I’m told, was ‘Do you want us to ring Mum?’
His answer was ‘No.’
Resilience — score one.
I talked to him later. There were tears — lots of them, from both of us.
Wellbeing — negative one.
No, he said, nobody teased him.
No, he said, he didn’t get hurt.
Could he tell me why he was so upset? No.
I think, and I’m only guessing, he was deeply disappointed he’d failed. Failed the swimming test, yes, but also failed us by not having a good day as we’d hoped.
Geordie cried silent tears during dinner, while watching TV and when he went to bed that night.
Then he watched me cry with him and he hugged me.
He was being so resilient. He’d done everything we’d taught him to do; everything we’ve worked for years to help him achieve.
And what did it get us? What did it get him?
Being resilient is one thing.
Feeling overwhelmed, feeling stuck, feeling you’ve disappointed someone and feeling like you’ve failed — all while still trying to be resilient — is something else entirely.
It’s times like these resilience becomes a damaging factor.
It’s times like these I want to tell resilience to go and bite itself.
We don’t need you all the time, resilience.