Tools for Building Resilience

Vanguard University’s Global center for Women and Justice hosts an annual Ensure Justice Conference. This year the theme was Build a Strong Child! The image on the conference poster was a buoy on a stormy ocean. As parents, foster parents, teachers, law enforcement, and medical and mental health practitioners, we want to rescue every child from the storms, but we can’t. So, we gathered for two days to consider how to build up children so that they would be able to float, just like that buoy, and ultimately become the resilient adults we know they’re capable of becoming!

We began to appreciate how amazing the brain is and how we can use new brain science to understand that the disconnect is not imagined, it is physical. For more fascinating information on brain development, watch Dr. Anne Light on Day One. The good news is that the brain is always changing, and we can be part of developing new, positive connectivity in kids.

The result of developing new connectivity in the brains of children, is that they are able to heal from the wounds of the heinous crimes of the commercial sexual exploitation of children. With every new connectivity, resilience is developed.

To emphasize the importance of F.L.O.A.T, I gave conference attendees a pneumonic to remind them of the important aspects of floating. You can watch the video online, but consider these aspects here.

Every child needs: F.L.O.A.T

Family – Interestingly, when a class of middle schoolers were asked to define family, they didn’t describe a mother and father and 2.7 children. They described family as people you who are there for you. They specified that it wasn’t always people related to you.

Life skills – Things like how to make a simple sewing repair, how to cook an egg, how to do your laundry, and how to save money. Sounds like common sense unless you didn’t grow up with it. A new outreach tool for churches called “Brave” includes a fun journal/activity book that has just a few pages of simple recipes (how to cook eggs 6 ways), all the symbols on your clothes that tell you when to use cold or hot so you don’t ruin them, and, other common life skills.

Order – We all need routine and consistency. When things are unpredictable, we use energy to stay alert. When things are dangerous, we use a lot of energy to stay vigilant. Make the time children are with you very, very predictable! That order provides a sense of safety and gives them a break from the chaos in the rest of the world.

Assets – refer back to a previous Connect The Dots column about Developmental Assets. The top 20 are assets, like boundaries and expectations, support, empowerment, and constructive use of time, are External – these are things you and I can do to create space so that a child can work on the Internal, like developing a positive identity, social competency, positive values, and commitment to learning.

Trust – Will you be there? Will you do what you said you would do. Never promise what you cannot deliver.

Consider this quote from Ann S. Masten, Irving B. Harris Professor of Child Development at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development and author of Ordinary Magic, “I like to say that the resilience of a child is distributed. It’s not just in the child. It’s distributed in their relationships with the many other people who make up their world.”

We are those people who build resilience into the children within our influence. When a caring person volunteers in an after-school program, or a teacher takes the time to remember a child’s favorite color, or is a guidance counselor who invests the time to encourage a student to plan for college, each of us becomes part of this ordinary magic to which Ann Masten refers. Let’s all teach kids to F.L.O.A.T. I want every twelve-year-old to know that help is on the way.