Nobles Parents' E-Newsletter

May 2013

Nobles Parents' E-Newsletter May 2013

Bouncing Back by John Gifford, Head of Middle School

Failure, in and of itself, actually does teach important lessons. When students get a question right, they don’t stop to consider why (even if it was simply a lucky guess).  When they get it wrong, they usually take the time to understand what went awry.  They learn from their errors and will hopefully not make the same mistake again. We have not, however, taken full advantage of failure if we leave it at that. Building resiliency in young people is the important dance partner of the value of failure.

I doubt there is anything as important to future success as resiliency. After a setback of any type, the individual who is able to persevere is far better positioned to reach their ultimate goal.  The young person who is not debilitated by an embarrassing event or a thoughtless slight of a peer, can focus on their goals and not be stymied by setbacks.

While resiliency can come with age and experience, there are also ways that adults can nurture its development. What follows are a few suggestions of “dos and don’ts”.  Common sense perhaps and I’d wager that you are already enacting some version of this advice.

Boys and girls may deal with adversity in very different ways. While the “fight or flight” paradigm has been widely accepted for some time as a human strategy to cope with great stress, more recent studies focused on girls suggest that they react quite differently.  Researchers have found that girls are more likely to “tend and befriend” during times of crisis, working to solidify their social networks as a way of protecting themselves from a threat. This could help to explain what we know intuitively.  Boys and girls work out their differences in very different ways.  Boys may verbally shut down, avoid and deny the event that was painful or perhaps even react in a physically aggressive manner.  Girls may take tallies of the opinions of their peers.  They often need to verbalize the event—sometimes only with a close peer or adult and other times quite broadly. There are positive aspects to these (very generalized) coping mechanisms of both boys and girls and there are clear deficiencies.

Whether the impacted youngster is male or female, it seems clear that a mentoring connection to adults is vital. Studies led by Michael Resnick, Phd. have suggested that adult connection is the most important factor in young people who are able to resist high risk behaviors. Dr. Judith Jordan asserts what we so passionately believe at Nobles: that parent/child and student/teacher relationships are also essential to young people developing resiliency in the face of adversity.

But when trouble bubbles, what might that mentoring relationship look like? How can you help your child bounce back from a sticky situation? Each situation is exceedingly different, but here are a few quick strategies to think about.

Listen and Sympathize
The first step is to listen. They need to know that you are taking the situation seriously. You should sympathize and validate their feelings. This doesn’t mean that you should validate their anxietydon’t ramp it up even more!  You are simply taking the time to listen and not dismissing how they feel. If they feel that you have (truly) heard them, they are more likely able to switch gears to treat the event as a teachable moment rather than a tragedy.


Set the Context
We need to remember that the life-context is lacking for young people. They have little more than a decade under their belts and, hopefully, they have not experienced great hardship. A young person’s definition of “disaster” is all relative and a situation that 10th grader would take in stride can feel truly horrifying to a middle schooler. It is the adult’s job to try to provide broader context.

You can help provide context. If your child failed a test, talk through how many tests there are yet to take. If they are upset by a comment that a peer made in the hallway, talk through the complicated nature of how things are intended and interpreted.

Turn it into THEIR Game Plan
Focus on what was learned from the process. Was it an organizational problem? A communication problem? Sure, you can suggest strategies, but also get your child to problem solve different ways to handle a similar situation in the future.  Encourage them to come up with a plan to make the current situation better.  Make sure that they are solving the problem as much as possible. Put simply: there is no more important time to teach self-advocacy than when the chips are down. 


You know your child. It is important to keep in mind that the strategies of how to work with any young person are nuanced and should shift depending on what you think would prove most effective. In the end, the most important over-arching message that I hope resonates is the one about adult mentorship as a key component of building resilience.

Jordan, Judith V. "Relational Resilience in Girls." Ed. Sam Goldstein. Handbook of Resilience in Children. Ed. Robert B. Brooks. New York: Springer, 2006. N. pag. Print.

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