“You want children to be able to handle setbacks, and hardship, and failure. So that someday, when they move out of the house, they can handle a problem at work, issues with a roommate at college, failing a test,” says social worker Amy Morin, author of the book “13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do.”

Becky Foley is superintendent of schools in Regional School Unit 5 (Freeport-Durham-Pownal). She can be reached at [email protected]

According to a recent Healthy Minds Study (Eisenberg & Lipson, 2019), 75% of college students report they need help for emotional or mental health problems. This statistic comes at a time when schools are providing more resources than ever to try and support social and emotional learning. One key to lowering that sobering statistic is to develop resilience in our children. Resilience means the ability to recover quickly from difficulties or to bounce back from challenging situations. Some children are more resilient than others. Watch young children learning to walk; when they fall down, most will inherently try and get up.

Our schools recognize the importance of developing resilience for success. In the younger grades, resilience is assessed under “determination” and at the high school it is referred to as “work ethic.” This means the ability to self-assess, show persistence and be able to use feedback effectively. Like other skills, teachers provide instruction about what it looks like in classrooms and then assess whether students demonstrate that skill.

Our STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) teachers build resilience in many different contexts, as students focus on design challenges. Seventh and eighth grade students at Durham Community School were presented with an engineering challenge. Given limited materials to solve the challenge, students were creative in using their resources and attempted multiple methods to solve the challenge. Students who demonstrate determination are celebrated at school assemblies. Rather than focusing only on celebrating students with high grades, it is equally important to celebrate those who face challenges and maintain a can-do attitude, which builds lifelong resilience.

Athletes at Freeport High School demonstrate resilience when they overcome adversity after being diagnosed with concussions and other injuries. Some students must miss school and suspend play while recuperating. Rather than feeling defeated, students with resilience know how to handle the stress and cope with it as a mere “bump in the road.”

This past soccer season, a senior who suffered a concussion demonstrated resilience when, after sitting out several games, he went on to be a valuable player in the team’s quarter final victory.

On a recent Maine Public Radio StoryCorps, Kevin Craw, a dad, was interviewed and he reflected: “The desire to protect the ones you love is never-ending and that keeps me up at night. You’re so invested in them and you so want them to thrive and you can’t make it happen – they have to make it happen for themselves.”

Parents can assist in creating more resilient children. Parents can help their children build resilience by modeling ways to face stress, handle mistakes and show that failure does not define them. The key to managing failure isn’t avoiding it, but talking through it. Our first instinct as adults is to step in and rescue our children, but in so doing, we become the “lesson thief,” robbing them of important life learning. Parents should be slow to intervene.

Let’s acknowledge our children’s feelings of sadness, disappointment and fear when they fail, but let’s not become the lesson thief who robs our children of important life lessons. Let’s hold them accountable for their actions and show them how their actions impact themselves and others. Let’s support and teach our children to become resilient adults who are emotionally healthy and ready to thrive in tomorrow’s world.

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