This topic is deeply personal to me. Why? Because resilience isn’t just a word to me. It’s something that I began to discover in Year 5 and have continued to learn about ever since. As you read my story I hope it reinforces that no matter where your child is at right now, teaching them the traits of resilience is the answer.
From dark places good things can and do grow if they choose to grow with them. As parents, we have a huge part to play in that.
My school year started like many others my age – disappointed with my class teacher. Mrs R had taught me in Year 4 and I was so excited to wave goodbye to her on the last day of school. But I soon discovered that she was teaching Year 5 and I was in her class. OH NO!!!! I couldn’t believe my luck! She was probably lovely but pedantically organised. You only ever got gold stars in her class if you were quiet or tidy. I was neither. My tidy tray was like this one, but a thousand times worse.
Despite getting good grades, I started to get very bored at school. My mind wandered constantly and I was the kid who wanted to know why something was important before I started doing it. I loved to create, and write. Still do.
I had a few business ideas on the go and after school was my favourite time of the day. I purchased Lamingtons from the local bakery and then went door to door, selling them for a profit. I also begun to knit fluffy florescent vests (with chunky wool and knitting needles). I sold them at school for $5.00. I wish I had a photo of them, but I don’t. They were SO 80’s!
Anyway, these vests ‘took off’ and I could hardly keep up with the demand from my school friends. However, Mrs R was not impressed with my vests and I was forbidden to sell (or exchange tuckshop money) with other students inside or outside of school.
At the same time as my business collapsed (haha), I had a friendship breakup. As parents we re-live the strong pain associated with these moments each time our children complain about being alone. My story is a common one.
I had a very close best friend (BFF) who had begun to make friends with another girl in the grade. I was left as a third wheel, which eventually fell off the wagon. I was regularly crying at night, trying to guess why my friend didn’t like me anymore. It must have been a very long year for my mother! I found myself, for the very first time, without someone waiting to play with me at lunchtime. I felt incredibly alone.
I didn’t like school and I dreaded lunchtimes, so I came up with a plan.
Instead of making new friends or standing alone for a while, I decided I was going to excuse myself for the lunch hour. Each day when the lunch bell rang, I would sneak past the administration building, “jump” the school gate and run like mad until I got to the local shops. This was the worst possible way to solve my problems, but I had convinced myself that is was the ONLY way to get through it.
Things got worse when I decided I needed money to spend during my daily adventure. With my business plans at a standstill, I started to steal “change” from my father. He was a hairdresser and brought his “daily takings” home each night. Stealing coin quickly turned into stealing notes, and things escalated very quickly. I was cashed up, but very unhappy.
I am ashamed to add this, but I also started stealing money from my neighbours. I don’t know why this sounds worse, but it somehow does. Everything goes a bit quiet when I tell people that I stole money from people other than my family. Sorry to disappoint you! Yes, I was a thief. (Side note: If you have a child who is stealing coin now, they might just turn out okay!)
Each day I would buy 2c lollies till my pockets were full. No one at the shops asked why I wasn’t at school. No one at school noticed I was gone. I felt so powerful. I felt like I had beat the system, so I kept stealing, lying and cheating the system. I started to notice that the more lollies I returned to school with, the more people wanted to talk to me. I was buying new friendships and getting quick attention, and I liked it.
I finally convinced another girls in my class to wag school with me. Remember I’m in Year 5, so wagging school is not cool yet. It’s almost a little crazy. So, it took me ages to convince her that it would be ‘fun’. I promised to fill her pockets with lollies and to be back safely behind the school gate before anyone found out. However, everything came crashing down when my father came driving down the road, towards the two of us on our way back to school. I threw my sweets and drumstick ice-cream to the curb but I couldn’t hang my head quickly enough. It was too late. He had seen us.
My dad is generous and kind, and very forgiving. True to form, he pulled the car over and very graciously asked us, “What are your doing here girls?” I expected him to give us a stern word and drop us back at school, but that day my dad did something I wasn’t expecting. His actions shaped my life. He didn’t pep talk me. He didn’t make excuses for me. He drove my friend and I back to school, and then marched us into the headmaster’s office and announced, “I believe these two girls were wagging school”.
Dad didn’t stay in the waiting room to hold my hand when I came out of the principal’s office. He didn’t stay around to supervise how the school handled the situation. He didn’t say a word to me or even look at me with sorrowful eyes. He just dropped me and then up and left. Now I am sure that he called the principal on the phone outside of my view, but I never saw that bit. He sent a very strong message to me. Choose the behaviour and you choose the consequences. I’m not going to rescue you. He made me take responsibility, full responsibly. My guess is that he thought I could handle it.
I imagine doing this would have been quite hard for him. If you know my dad you will know he’s not the harsh type. From where he was standing, he obviously felt that this was what I needed. And what would happen next was totally out of his hands….
It didn’t take long before my friend was dismissed and the principal’s attention focussed on me as the ringleader. I remember confessing everything I had done, including stealing, lying, running, hiding. Everything went into slow motion as I thought, “This is what it feels like to be the NAUGHTY girl. This is what it is like to get into BIG trouble.” I was THAT kid, and I was painfully aware of it!
I got the cane – 10 big whacks to my rear end. Those were the days where corporate punishment was widely accepted. I was then required to stand in front of the entire class and give a formal apology for “leading them astray”. Imagine a child who was already struggling socially having to publicly admit to being a bad influence? That was a tough moment for me! Too tough?? Hmmm….maybe and maybe not. Only time would tell. The principal told me he would allow me to continue at the school on probation. I do remember wishing I had got expelled.
I was LOW. Very low! How was I ever going to bounce back from this? I was labelled “troubled”. I had no real friends. My teacher hated me. I didn’t know how to explain myself to my loving and caring family who didn’t know about my double life. Funnily enough, that’s the day I met ‘resilience’. He, she, it walked right up to me and said, “Hi, I’m resilience. Are you going to get to know me, or are you going to try and work out things on your own?”
I’m so glad I chose resilience.
There are seven very specific traits that helped me bounce back again….and lying wasn’t one of them (haha). These traits not only helped me but have helped millions of others around the world thrive during challenging times. Courage, empathy, responsibility, self-care, gratitude, self-awareness and contribution became my tools of the trade. I talk about each of these traits in my new book “Everyday Resilience: Helping Kids Handle Friendship Drama, Academic Pressure and the Self-Doubt of Growing Up”, but for those who are interested, here are some actions which helped me back on my feet:
- I went to school and stayed at school everyday – that took bucketloads of courage!
- I accepted that my former best friend had a right to choose other friends – that actually took empathy.
- I fronted up to the consequences of wagging school – my dad gave me no option (hahah)
- I found helpful adults to talk to – that was a big part of caring for myself
- I looked for people who needed a friend instead of those who didn’t want me – I learnt to be grateful for what I could have
- I allowed myself to feel other things besides anger and admitted when I was hurting – self-awareness is so important for children
- I started a ‘theatre club’ at lunchtime. I invited the kids in my class to audition to play characters in a ‘play’ that Mrs R gave me. Maybe she wasn’t so bad after all?! This was the place where I made friends and turned around my reputation. I can remember arranging 50 or more chairs in the playground for our first official performance. It was a big success,
Most of our children have experienced at least one school year which was difficult for them. You might personally remember a year at school like where you endured bullying or started falling behind in your grades. You may be able to recall all too well the downward spiral that comes with compounding challenges. We all want to blame ONE thing for our child’s struggling mindset. It’s convenient but seldom accurate. We might blame THAT group of kids, or THAT teacher, or THAT subject. But a struggling mindset is much more likely to be influenced by an accumulation of challenges, which our children adapted well to. There is only one answer forward – the traits of resilience. They aren’t a magic cure, but if you work them, they work. Like a muscle that needs to be used, resilience is strengthened with each small choices our children make. Our job as parents is to help them every step of the way.
RECOMMENDED READING: For more, check out Michelle’s book “Everyday Resilience: Helping Kids Handle Friendship Drama, Academic Pressure and the Self-doubt of Growing Up”.