We're good in the best of times. But how about the worst of times? Life brings adversity. Failing a test, not getting a job promotion. Not to mention something traumatic like a death in the family.
Whether these challenges become speed bumps or roadblocks depends on a person's ability to bounce back. In a word: resilience. That's not to say it's easy. Resilient people feel distress. It's what they do with it that makes all the difference. They learn from it. They grow.
Think of resilience as a muscle rather than a trait bestowed by nature in DNA — like the color of your eyes. Resilience is a way of behaving and thinking, and it can be developed. Parents can help kids build resilience. Here's what the research says. Start by letting kids know they matter. This is a key part of a stable relationship between a child and a parent.
Kids who are reassured that they matter — that they are important and needed — have better mental health, and they become more emotionally buoyant. Also relying on kids to a degree gives them a sense that they can trust themselves.
There actually can be a genetic factor to resilience, but it is not hardwired at birth. Studies show that supportive parenting can result in genetic modifications that biologically help a child cope with adversity. These genetic changes can be permanent or temporary.
Adults can develop a resilience, too, at any age. Experts say a big part of it is a state of mind. For example: Crises aren't insurmountable; they can be scaled. Accept that change is a part of living. Avoid blowing a failure or misfortune out of proportion.
It also is behavioral. For example: Set realistic goals, and take incremental steps: Ask yourself, "What's one thing I know I can do today that moves me toward my goals?" Take care of yourself. Exercise gets your brain and body ready.
If we're lucky — really lucky — we'll never have to test our resilience. But who floats through life without a few detours? If we handle adversity well, it makes us better. A little resilience goes a long way.