When I dabbled in the education field, I observed what kids were being taught. Math and science, critical thinking, reading comprehension. Yet the curriculum does not cover topics like perseverance, self-improvement, and community-building, which may be more useful than any other subject.
Kids are not taught how to deal with difficult future situations: academic struggles, unemployment, crime, bullying, death of a family member, health problems, domestic violence, divorce, poverty, and racism. Children who do encounter problems often work with school counselors on an individual basis. But there is no universal curriculum on resilience.
Why is resilience so important? Here is why (from my personal perspective):
For my entire life up until the age of 31, I had never encountered any severe problems. I failed one test in high school and I took a leave of absence during medical school (due to intense stress from the competitive environment). Other than those two things, my life was okay. I set goals and always reached them despite enduring daily stress and unhappiness in the medical field. I became a doctor and found a great job. No major struggles came my way. So when an unexpected death in the family shattered my heart and my optimism, I completely fell apart.
After leaving the practice of medicine to grieve and explore other careers, I felt bitter and hopeless. Honestly, I felt the entire world was against me despite being a high functioning physician one year earlier. Unemployment and confusion about my next career path turned me into a negative person, and I didn’t have the skills to fight off feelings of despair.
I had never failed before so I didn’t have practice using resilience. If I went through this ordeal as a physician with a supportive family, imagine what struggles kids from low-income neighborhoods encounter! I have seen all kinds of people become hopeless due to lack of resilience, which puts them at risk of depression, homelessness, drug abuse, and crime. The lesson I have learned is that resilience requires PRACTICE and needs to be taught in childhood or adolescence!
Here are useful tools to improve outcomes during difficult emotional times:
Deep breathing and meditation exercises
Simple cognitive-behavioral exercises (such as triaging problems and finding solutions)
Being able to share shame, anxiety, and fear with others
Communication skills to resolve interpersonal conflicts
Maintaining a stable self-esteem
Eating healthy and exercising
Supporting an internal locus of control (you have control over your life instead of environmental factors having control)
Seeking out academic help
Learning from mentors and surrounding yourself with positive/motivated people
Transforming negative thinking into positive thinking (what positive lessons did you learn from a traumatic event?)
Seeking out appropriate social services (including help for mental health, housing, and employment issues)
Writing in a journal or diary
Celebrating every small step of improvement.
Finally, having the knowledge that things will get better as long as you keep trying. In the words of Galaxy Quest, “Never Give Up! Never Surrender!” These are all skills that can be taught in a classroom!
If we take time to teach high schoolers how to apply to college and study for the SAT, let’s also give them the emotional tools they’ll need to succeed in all aspects of life by making them resilient in the face of obstacles.
If you have time, check out Angela Lee Duckworth’s Ted Talk on the effects of grit in the school system:
And here’s an inspiring clip from Galaxy Quest: