Let’s help children & teenagers cope with life & build resilience

resilienceIt seems that now more than ever we must remind people that emotional resilience is an option.  Especially with our young people.  I recently heard that Ireland has one of the best Education Systems in Europe.  This is wonderful.  But we also have alarmingly high rates of suicide, suicidal ideation, self harm and use of prescription medication.  Something’s not working.  And it is an exciting time for change.

When I had this realisation I wondered if there was anything I could do.  I have worked closely with individuals and groups for over 10 years, which has been such a blessing.  I have met people who wanted to kill themselves, then didn’t.  I have met those who wanted to hurt themselves, then didn’t.  I have met people who wanted to take drugs and alcohol as their emotional pain was too much, and now they don’t.  I have met parents coping with ill children and parents coping with the death of their child.  I have met those who have died, do hurt themselves and those who do take drugs and alcohol to survive.

And all of this tells me that life is really hard.  There are also the normal walking wounded; those who didn’t have an unusual or extreme event in their life but are also feeling pain.  There doesn’t need to be a reason to feel pain as being human is painful enough.  And we need to start teaching our younger member of society how to cope with this.

So what I am trying to do is to put together all that I have been an observer to, heard, experienced, researched, learnt and been taught into programmes of resilience for students in schools.  All students.  From pre-school to secondary.  This includes the “hard to reach” people as really there is no such thing.  We just have to find a way to reach them.  That’s all.

Resilience looks and sounds like this; Compassion.  Compassion gives people the courage to face the pain and develop the skills to tolerate it and help prevent it in the future.  Compassion explains how we have evolved, the brains we have and why it is that we do and think the things we do.  Compassion explains that this is not our fault – did you choose your brain?  If you had a choice, would you choose one that worried, got angry, anxious and made you do the things that you feel guilty and ashamed for?  No, probably not.  But while it is not our fault, we can take responsibility for it.

We need to teach our youngest members of society about their mind.  We do not have to feed into the mind.  We are not only the darkest thought in their mind, or the worst thing they have ever done.  We all have a dark side and if we can get to know it better then we get to choose if it runs the show or not.  This takes courage, wisdom, patience, strength, emotional tolerance, acceptance and empathy.  In other words, the skills and qualities of compassion.  But compassion is more than a set of skills, it is also a motivation; a motivation to want to understand a difficulty and not be afraid of what it discovers.  Woven within the motivation of compassion is strength; strength to tolerate and understand life.

We need to teach people how to relate to their thoughts rather than become them.  That’s right, there is a choice.  It is possible to learn to relate to the most difficult parts of ourselves with a curiosity and a desire to understand.

Lets teach people how to create the most helpful version of themselves, an inner ally that they can rely on during tough times.  Self-esteem goes up and down, but an inner ally will always be with us through thick and thin.  And this work is fun, creative, personal and totally self-created.  So each person creates their compassionate best, a deeply personal interpretation of what meeting their needs looks like.  How empowering.

Extensive research and programmes of compassion are recognised internationally.  It is an exciting time to embed this in Ireland.  Amongst others, our friends at the Compassionate Mind Foundation in the UK have done extensive research into compassion.  Their work recognises the physiological and emotional changes compassion has for people who learn how to practice and become it.  Their research tells us overwhelmingly that the brain is flexible and we can learn to direct it in a helpful way if we set the intention and practice.  Whilst our brains are formed by genes and genetics, if these two factors have not been favourable to us all is not lost.  We can cultivate a helpful version of us and rely on it when needed.

So this is what I am going to try and do.  Explain this to our precious younger members of society, their parents and schools.  Feeling swamped by life is normal as life is really tough.  And there is a way to cope; compassion.  Let’s treasure our children, teenagers and young adults and help them learn the skills and qualities to relate to difficult emotions, rather than becoming them.


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