Resilience is a big deal, but it’s mostly misunderstood. Here are three things you need to know about resilience before we get to the unicorns and horse crap:

  1. Resilience (or lack thereof) is not something new–it’s always been an issue. Also, start rejecting the premise that kids nowadays are less resilient than when we were kids (or whatever previous generation was supposedly the most resilient).
  2. Resilience has become a very sexy, hyped-up topic, but it has (and always will) be about our ability to adapt. Resilience is just about our ability to bob and weave with life’s punches.
  3. Resilience is multi-dimensional. In other words, it’s not a single attribute people have or don’t have. Many times, resilience is a byproduct–not the product of our efforts and our environments.

I really like the following definition of resilience: “Our ability to achieve positive outcomes despite challenging (or threatening) circumstances.”

In order to achieve those positive outcomes we need to be aware of three more things:

  1. We must acknowledge that unicorns DO NOT exist. We must accept that everyone is struggling in one way or another.
  2. We must acknowledge (and accept) that bad things (aka horse crap) is gonna happen to us–repeatedly.
  3. We must identify and utilize the various formulas for building resiliency in our lives and the lives of our loved ones.

The Unicorn Problem:

Popular media (including social media, streaming TV, movies, etc.) are best understood as black mirrors. In other words, they are not an accurate reflection of real life. When we stare into black mirrors, we see perfect unicorns enjoying their perfect unicorn hair, their perfect unicorn bodies, and their perfect unicorn vacations. If there was any difference from being a kid today than being a kid from any other time period, it’s that we’ve got these black mirrors everywhere now. We (not just kids) all stare way too much at these things. The consequence of this stuff is that we are worn down to believe that what we see is all there is.

*DISCLAIMER* I am not the psychologist that says “destroy all screens.” I tend to think managing technology is a lot like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube–it’s messy and it ain’t gonna work. I am the psychologist that says we need to step away from the black mirrors in our lives. We need space.

We need to discover real, messy, authentic experiences. That’s right. We need horse crap.

The real beauty of life is discovering that unicorns are not real, but that horse crap is very, very real. In fact, I like to advocate for “finding your pile.” That’s right, seek out the horse crap in your life and figure out just how messy it’s all gonna be.

WARNING: Do not punish yourself–that is called masochism and is NOT resilience.

WARNING: Do not strive to become a martyr. Martyrdom is NOT resilience.

Finding your pile means finding an opportunity to adapt. When we find our pile of horse crap, how can we learn from it and move on?

Piloting the Pile: The 5 Models of Resilience Building

In their article, “Resilience in Children and Youth: A Review,” authors Staci Zolkoski and Lyndal Bullock identified five models of resilience. These models have been identified to explain how individual and environmental factors function to reduce or offset the adverse effects of risk factors. I have taken the liberty to re-name the models because that’s how my brain works. So, for the record, Zolkoski and Bullock identify these models with scientific names–I identify these models with geeky names.

Model 1: (Scientific Name: Compensatory. Geeky Name: Toy Story Model)

The Toy Story Model of Resilience: You Got a Friend in Me

This model operates for children facing a lot of stressors and risk factors and someone in that child’s life takes a vested interest in compensating for those stressors and risk factors. This friend, caregiver, teacher helps build resilience by being consistent and provides regular monitoring of risk factors for the student.

Model 2: (Scientific Name: Challenger. Geeky Name: Gamer Model)

The Gamer Model of Resilience: On Your Mark, Get Ready…

This model is not for everybody. This model relies on the personality traits of an individual–a very competitive individual. This model of resilience relies on the personal characteristics of an individual to turn challenges into a game. Individuals in this model tackle stress as an opportunity and tragedies as a learning experience. This is a very action-oriented model of resilience. Interestingly, this model is inspiring to witness and therefore very effective when modeled.

Model 3: (Scientific Name: Protective. Geeky Name: Flu Shot Model)

The Flu Shot Model of Resilience: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Think of this model as a nagging (but loving) parent. This parent or caregiver is just a little bit preoccupied with the real dangers of the world and just wants us to be vaccinated to be safe. This model is built upon caregivers that have accepted and fully understand how ugly life can get. These caregivers can help build resiliency by making deliberate efforts to prepare children with tools to cope with the horse crap life throws at us. This model requires support systems to think preventatively by focusing on the basics:

  1. Good diet
  2. Good sleep
  3. Good exercise
  4. Self-care
  5. Building on strengths of the child

Model 4: (Scientific Name: Protective-Stabilizing. Geeky Name: The Bandaid Model)

The Bandaid Model of Resilience: This will make it better…

This model of resilience might be the most common model each of us operate in (or provide). This model operates through caregivers that understand all they can really do is support a child, not fix their problems. In other words, this model of resilience relies on compassion and empathy. As caregivers model empathy by not solving but validating the difficult experience, kids learn that resilience isn’t about fixing. Kids learn that resilience is about appreciating the small, tiny moments of reprieve.

Model 5: (Scientific Name: Protective-Reactive. Geeky Name: The Classroom Model)

The Classroom Model of Resilience: The Learning Loop

Working in schools the past 15 years has made this model of resilience very real to me. Every day, good teachers wake-up, get ready, go to work and take care of kids. You’re fooling yourself if you think they’re just “teaching.” Nope. I spend hours in classrooms every year and teachers are not only working through content–they’re working through life with our kids. Bloody noses, bullying, harassment, trauma, boogers, poop are all part of many educators daily routine. So what are teachers really providing? Access. Access to knowledge and skills that help build resilience.

Truly great educators provide two of the most powerful “resiliency-builders” on the planet: A sense of belonging and daily experiences of success.

At Totem PD, we’ve built some great tools for teachers and counselors working with elementary and secondary students. We have a 6-week course sequence for each age group that works through The Classroom Model of Resilience and the The Flu Shot Model of Resilience. These comprehensive lessons are simple, effective, and research-based. They an be found in our Bullyology Series. Click here to enroll in our Bullyology Course and to not only access these programs on building resilience for kids but learn how to incorporate models of support and resilience in your school system.