Resilience has been around a long time. Resilience is amazing. We all draw on our strengths and natural reserves and favourite ways of doing things to get through the difficult times. We might do what has always worked or what seems to work just now, we might try something new, we might choose to stay still and quiet until the worst is over. How we think about difficulties which face us and what we do in response helps us to get on with our lives, both to live through the difficulties and to go on reaching out into our worlds. This is the ‘bounce back’ often referred to in literature about resilience. Bouncing is a word associated with energy, enthusiasm, vigour, health and indeed a movement away from something and back into something else. So it suggests a reassuring natural pattern which I like. But it also has its limitations for me when thinking about resilience. Resilience can mean just making it through, taking small steps, learning from disaster, and keeping going with more of a plod than a bounce.
So resilience is not new. It’s not familiar either. I witness it, often, as a friend, a family member and as a professional. I never think, ‘oh that person is good at being resilient’ I see them engaging in their best ways on their unique pathways with the gates and hills and ditches and mountain views which are part of their lives and which demand their own special brand of courage and acceptance. And with something that is as old as the hills, something that seems to be a natural skill and talent in everyone and has been for centuries, something which though it can be reduced to generalised strategies is at its heart highly individual and wayward in its expression; should we be trying to teach this as a singular skill to children and young people, or should we instead, or at least as much, be making sure that in everything we say and do with children and young people we are nurturing their own idiosyncratic capacities to be resilient in their own very special ways. When I am talking with children and young people I often hear things they say they want to do or change or improve which lie flat and dead on the table between us. They are what others who care about them have often had to tell them to do or needs doing. For life and noise I have to ask them why it is important to them, what is their own special reason for wanting to do this, what is their particular way of doing it, who is important to them and what would that person notice, what would they be satisfied with, and all the variety of questions that solution focused practitioners create and use to help the child or young person to describe a very special picture of what is wanted, their own picture, of what they want.
Of course if we fast forward to the past it is what many parents and child care professionals have always done. Picking up a small child who has fallen over, dusting down their knees with ‘all better now’ is a message that they can get through a painful event; commiserating with a young person about a disappointment as well as suggesting there is always tomorrow is a message of hope and a peek through an optimistic world lens; talking about mistakes as opportunities to learn; all these are ways we naturally nurture resilience skills in children and young people. And increasingly schools and youth centres and organisations encourage the development of resilience in how they structure and construct opportunities and activities for children and young people. It’s where I think the research and highlighting of factors which contribute to the development of resilience comes in most useful; not to teach the skill of resilience to children and young people but to create the opportunities for communities to nurture it in an everyday sense and at the heart of everything it does.
At the heart of Solution Focused practice I also see the nurturing of resilience in children and young people. Not nurturing a singular skill, but encouraging and supporting descriptions of thinking and behaving that help them to reach and continue to reach into their futures, and not be stopped in their tracks, or if so, only for the opportunity to look round and appreciate the scenery and colour of what they have already done and are already doing. Solution Focused conversations encourage attention to supportive relationships: who believes in you and believes you can do this? It nurtures optimism: tell me about the times when you have already been doing this a tiny bit? It sees failures in a helpful light: how did you get through that? What did you learn that was useful from that? It encourages personal autonomy and decision making: how did you know to do that? Why is that important to you? It deals with fear in a constructive way: how will you know when you are ready to do that? It reframes; negative global labels into singular actions: ‘I cant make friends’ into ‘it’s been tricky making friends’ (recently); and positive actions into broader identity statements: ‘I put my hand up in class’: what does that tell you about yourself? It encourages a growth mindset: what do you want and how will you know when you are there; not what can’t you do and why can’t you do it. In my experience a Solution Focused conversation with a child or young person helps them not only to find a way forward in relation to whatever is facing them at that time, but also to develop and to embed a way of thinking about and responding to the challenges and opportunities in their lives. This way of responding fits with the common definitions of resilience, but is unique to each child and young person, and is uncovered in the search for what they want and their way forward, and not as a goal in itself.
So this is another reason to continue my love affair with Solution Focus and for you to do so too if you wish. I want the children and young people I work with to celebrate their bravery and their strengths and skills and to reach out into their worlds and create their futures. Resilience skills are in there somewhere, differently composed, differently expressed, never an end in themselves and not always a focus either, because there are always more inspiring things to focus on with children and young people, their hopes and dreams for the future that suits them, that vast and endless sea……
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders.
Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery