In a world teeming with uncertainty, resilience—the capacity to withstand or recover swiftly from difficulties and press on despite setbacks—is an essential life skill. In our zeal to protect our children from disappointment and sadness, sometimes we unwittingly deny them the opportunity to develop their resilience muscles. While our intentions are good, we are actually leaving them unprepared to handle life. As the New Year begins, we can all start fresh and change patterns that may be ingrained. Let us explore vital facets of resilience and ways to cultivate this robust quality within our children and ourselves.
Be the Charismatic Adult
Like so many other character traits, some of us are naturally more resilient than others. No one is completely resilient and no one is without a trace of resilience. Each of us needs someone to help us over the hump so we can build this most critical skill. Psychological studies show that one way to beat the odds of misfortune is for children to have a charismatic adult in their lives. Each of us, as parents and as teachers, can be that person. We can show support for our children while standing beside them and empowering them to make their own decisions. We can be there when they fail or make mistakes. We can encourage them to continue trying. And ultimately, we can help them develop their own strengths and become the best and most resilient version of themselves.
Learning From the Wisdom Of Rabbi Akiva
The Talmudic narrative of Rabbi Akiva provides us with profound insight into fostering a positive life outlook, even amidst adversity. When Rabbi Akiva witnessed a fox running near the ruined and desolate Bais Hamikdash, he chose to smile instead of weep. When the other Rabbis questioned his response, he shared that it was not rooted in ignorance but in an unfaltering belief in the prophecy of return and regrowth. Just as the prophecy of doom and destruction was realized, so would the prophecy of rebuilding come true.
Rabbi Akiva’s story elucidates the power of maintaining a positive attitude and finding meaning even in misfortune. As educators and parents, we must cultivate this outlook within ourselves and instill the same in our children. When we show children that we believe they can achieve success, whether socially or academically, they begin to believe in themselves as well. Conversely, when it’s clear to them that we think they are incapable or inept as we manage every aspect of their lives, they too begin to see themselves as weak and ineffective.
At this time of year, it should be easy to remind ourselves that change is always within our reach. To underestimate our children’s potential for growth and transformation is to undervalue God’s belief in our capacity to change. We must dare to believe in the boundless potential that lies within every child and within ourselves. God believes in it, so we must as well.
Effort Over Achievement
An old parable is told of a young man who came across a spring of delicious, crystal clear water. He filled his leather canteen so he could bring some back to his teacher, a tribal elder. After a long journey, he presented the water to the old man who took a drink, smiled warmly and thanked his student profusely. The young man returned to his village with a happy heart.
Later, the water was shared with another student who spat it out and said it was awful. It had apparently become stale because of the old leather container. The student asked, “Master, the water was foul. Why did you pretend to like it?”
The teacher replied, “you only tasted the water. I tasted the gift. The water was simply the container of an act of lovingkindness and nothing could be sweeter. Heartfelt gifts deserve the return gift of gratitude.”
Despite the water turning stale, the act of kindness remained pure, undiluted and sweet. This story reflects not just the spirit of determination but also the significance of hakarat hatov, or thankfulness, a pillar of resilience.
In our journey to foster resilience, it’s imperative to emphasize effort over mere achievement, to appreciate hard work and to reward determination. By focusing on the effort, we gift our students and our children a precious sense of worth, enabling them to believe in their potential to succeed.
Einstein once said, “I’m not smarter, I just stay with things longer.” This sentiment should echo in our classrooms and homes, teaching our children that persistence, not speed, marks the road to success. Especially for those aiming to foster a positive association with Torah and Judaism, emphasizing effort and appreciating the gift becomes crucial.
With sufficient support, most children can achieve. Sadly, too many children do not believe they can succeed, or think that if they make a mistake it must mean they are not smart or capable enough.
As we navigate the path to nurturing resilience, remember that how we perceive others and how we communicate that perception can be life-affirming or spirit-killing.
So let’s all try to be the charismatic and supportive adults in the lives of the children in our care. Let’s encourage children to be active participants in their own learning and let’s foster an environment where mistakes are viewed as a natural and expected part of the journey. And most importantly, let us all recognize and appreciate the fruits of our own efforts, thereby setting an exemplary standard of resilience for our children and students to emulate.
Dr. Jeff Lichtman is a clinical psychologist and the Lucille Weidman Program Chair, Jewish Childhood Education & Special Education at Touro University. He is also the director, Student Mental Health Services at Touro University