How Resilient Are Children Really?
By Jennifer McLeod

When a crisis or traumatic situation occurs we often hear people say something like “he/she will be fine. Children are very resilient. They will pull through it.”

Yes children and young people will “pull through” it but at what cost? At what cost to themselves? At what cost to society?

Let’s consider for a moment an adult experiencing a similar or the same traumatic experience, e.g. bereavement or marriage break up. How would the adult react to the situation?

They may have experiences such as:

• Numbness
• Being or feeling dumbfounded
• Feeling isolated
• Become angry
• Become aggressive
• Sullen
• Lash out at others
• Become excessively busy in an attempt to block the memories of the trauma/crisis
• Talk excessively
• Blame themselves for what happened
• Blame others for what happened
• Take on self destructive behaviours to cope with the situation (e.g. drugs, alcohol, self harm, abusing others etc)
• Being Fearful
• Begin to experience panic attacks
• Become tearful
• Take time off work
• Ask for compassionate leave
• Get depressed

Children are Humans too!

This list is only a minor sample of some possible ways that ADULTS react and cope with a crisis or traumatic situation. Given that children and young people are Humans too, aren’t they? Why then do so many adults think that children will be ok by simply leaving them to get over it by themselves? That their resilience will make it all ok?

Children and young people experience the same emotions that adults do when faced with trauma, except in some cases their emotions are camouflaged by “childish” behaviour because ……….they are children!

This does not mean that the underlying emotions that have driven them to behave in these “childish” ways have disappeared. This is their way of dealing with the trauma; they simply act out.

A child experiencing a trauma or crisis and who suddenly starts to fidget or talk excessively in the classroom or become sullen could very well be mirroring the behaviours of adults experiencing trauma. You will have undoubtedly heard of the sharp increase in self harm in the UK with young people, including the increase in suicide. Have you asked yourself what has driven these young people to these measures of coping?

Internalised Behaviour

If a child or young person is not given an opportunity to deal effectively with their emotions relating to the crisis, they will internalise the situation in a lot of different ways, especially self blame or self hatred and sooner or later we, society, will see and experience the result of that young person not receiving the REAL support that they needed at the time because they were deemed to be resilient enough to “pull through” it.

These same children are likely to be some of the ones labelled by society as yobs, thieves, hoodlums, no good or those exhibiting “inappropriate” behaviour and have been given ASBO’s (Anti Social Behaviour Order).
Some adults, including the medical profession, think that not talking to their children about the crisis/trauma will mean that the young person will forget about it. Wrong! The affects of the situation remain with children and they deal with them in different ways, which adults may label as childish or inappropriate behaviour

An author on self harm had a best friend who died when she was 7 years old and the author’s parents and doctor thought that it would be best not to discuss the trauma as she is likely to ‘forget’ about it in time. The author’s way of dealing with the situation was to internalise the sudden death of her friend by blaming herself for surviving which resulted in self harming behaviour for many years including as an adult.

In NLP we have a saying: “Perception is Projection”. That is, what you perceive in others is what you are projecting on to them. I have a very clear and distinct example of this projection experience from one of my managers many years ago, and it is one that I will always remember.

So please, as adults and as a society, let’s do a lot less labelling and negative projection on to our children and young people and lets do MORE of offering REAL help when they need it most. My belief is that children are born with “clean slate”. It’s society that teaches them how to behave!

© Jennifer McLeod 2010. All rights reserved

Author's Bio: 

Author, Professional Speaker, Inspirational Parent & Relationship Coach
Creator of Easy Tiger Parents Systems™
Creator of Born To Win! Programme for Young People™