Every parent wants to raise happy kids with the ability to bounce back when things get rough.
JODIE DUFFY discovers that by staying positive, the path to a well-adjusted child is easy to achieve.
This article appeared in the Illawarra Mercury newspaper
The resilience mantra has been used by teachers and psychologists to get parents to toughen up their offspring.
For almost two decades parents have been told that their children are too sensitive, too intense, too highly-strung. From preschool the pressure is on to have them bounce back quickly from life’s challenges, with four-year-olds being referred to psychologists if they’re not coping well with issues such as separation anxiety and bed wetting.
It may be “embarrassingly simple” but a Sydney psychologist has developed a way to create resilience in kids that doesn’t require a stint at boot camp.
Weaknesses are ignored, parents are encouraged to be strict but warm and the old adage “it takes a village to raise a child” is celebrated. Even the name of the model is palatable; The Resilience Doughnut – The Secret of Strong Kids. Psychologist Lyn Worsley came up with the idea after examining decades of research while working on an unrelated topic.
“I couldn’t understand why there was all this focus on what was wrong in a child’s life,” Worsley says. “Why there was all this attention on the negative. It just seemed wrong.”
Worsley’s approach is to focus on three of the child’s strengths and to work creatively to combine them in some way. This in turn nurtures the child’s inner core where self-esteem, confidence and self-awareness develops and resilience is built. The flow-on effect often results in other areas of a child’s life being improved without once having focused on any problems or low points.
“It’s not rocket science,” Worsley says. “In fact it’s embarrassingly simple. But I’ve presented my model to a room full of experts and have received standing ovations. It just makes sense to concentrate on what’s going right in a child’s life.”
The hole of the doughnut represents the child, with three positive messages: “I Have, I Am, I Can”. It’s where the child builds on tools and resources they need to face the world.
The seven external factors of the doughnut identify areas of influence in a child’s life and include parenting, skills, community, family, peers, education and finances. Each one is given a score from zero to 10. The doughnut works on the principle that “if something is working, do more of it”. Combining three strength factors in the child’s environment creates positive coping strategies.
“It’s a great way for young people to discover how to use their strengths when life gets a bit tricky,” explains Worsley. “The doughnut is also an educational tool because it empowers young people to identify the things that are working well for them and it teaches them ways to face challenges in an optimistic way. It can also be a turning point in their lives. It can guide them down different pathways by helping them to move forward through issues. They also learn to realise that things can work out well for them even when they are faced with adversity.”
Worsley says every child needs resilience in order to develop good social skills and self-esteem. “They don’t need to be sent to a boot camp to toughen up. They can learn to navigate and negotiate through life’s challenges. It doesn’t mean that they will never feel the stresses of life, rather that they have the ability to cope better and remain hopeful when things happen.”
By focusing on problems and weaknesses the child is sent negative messages. “What they then hear is a sense of failure and inability. It becomes ‘I Haven’t, I’m Not and I Can’t,” she says.
What’s also important is that each external factor also has a level of conflict which become lifelong lessons for the child. Parents, for example, need to be loving and affectionate, but also need to set boundaries which can lead to tension. In the skills-based factor, children learn that in order to be good at something they need to work at it.
“If you take adversity away from a child then you have a bridge that you’ve built but you never know if it’s going to survive the flood. In order to build resilience you need to provide kids with experiences where they can learn to cope themselves. Parents need to prepare their kids, not protect them.”
Parents and young adults can access The Resilience Doughnut in an online game for five dollars through www.theresiliencedoughnut.com.au. The model is also being trialled at some Sydney schools.
Tanya was in a strong and large peer group. There was often conflict between friends and she was constantly on the phone or sending text messages to them. She would burst into tears and fly into a rage at home. At school she would run out of class and have tantrums with her friends in the playground. Her class work had fallen behind. Her parents were warm and loving, as well as strict. She wasn’t allowed to go to parties after 11.30pm and they always picked her up. She was annoyed that they restricted her so much. She also talked about how much she loved her grandfather who owned an alpaca farm.
Factor: Peer group
Reasons: She was in a large peer group which had a lot of conflict. She gained strengths in resolving and sorting out problems.
Reasons: Her parents were warm and loving, as well as strict.
Reasons: Her grandparents lived in the area and were frequently at the house.
What happened: Her grandfather offered to take her and five friends to the farm. Tanya had to decide who would enjoy the farm and get on with her grandfather. Her parents also attended. The result was a successful weekend and Tanya felt closer to a smaller group of peers. She began to discern which friends she wanted to encourage. The friends who went to the farm talked about the experience at school with an agriculture teacher. This sparked an interest in agriculture for Tanya.