I believe that if I fall down eight times, I’ll get up nine
When working with young people, one of the words we often hear bandied about is resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back. It is the ability to respond positively to a setback.
It’s such an important skill to have in any part of your life but it is critical in drama and other creative spaces as we know before we even begin, that making mistakes is an inevitable part of creating something new.
This requires an optimistic approach. Optimistic children have greater physical health, less reported anxiety and depression, higher success at school and sport and more satisfying friendships and relationships.
According to Dr Martin Seligman – the leading expert in learned optimism there are “Three P’s to look out for when working with children and teaching them how to process their experiences more positively.
Permanence: Optimists tend to see negative events as fleeting and impermanent while they view positive things that are happening to them as permanent things. While a child who is pessimistic will often view an event like a fight with a friend as a “forever” hurt. An optimistic child will be able to see that ‘this too shall pass.’
Pervasiveness: Optimists tend to see negative events as specific and confined while they tend to see positive outcomes as the general rule. A child who is more pessimistic in orientation will often blow one negative event out into a broader unsubstantiated claim.
If they failed an exam – instead of saying “I didn’t study enough for that exam” they might say “I’m no good at maths” or even worse “I’m dumb. I never understand anything.” The optimist doesn’t “make a mountain out of a molehill.”
Personal: Optimists tend to see rejections as impersonal and as learning experiences. They feel they can control their own behaviour – personal responsibility- but not the behaviours of others. Pessimists tend to turn a rejection into a personal attack. Not being chosen for a team might elicit a response like “She hates me.” Or Personal Pervasive – “She hates me and everyone hates me” or Personal, Pervasive and Permanent- “She hates me. They all hate me and they always will.”
So what can we do when we notice these Three P’s.
Firstly, we can name them and show the child that our challenges are not permanent, pervasive or personal. In this way we can challenge the negative thought process. Sometimes its useful to reference past challenges that they have already overcome so that they can get a reality check. These positive experiences provide stories that the child can then relate to themselves in a positive way.
Secondly, we can teach them creative problem solving skills.
Thirdly, we can model these behaviours through our own actions and language. After all optimism, and resilience can be caught and taught.