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News from the North House Weekly News & Reflections from the Middle School

Week of October 14th, 2018

Cultivating Resilience

You may have heard or read at some point in your life’s encounters with Montessori education the profound words of Dr. Montessori that briefly encapsulate her philosophical approach to education: “Follow the child…”. Dr. Montessori believed wholeheartedly that we have so much to learn from our children as they venture forth each day to experience the joys and hardships of growth and development.

These valuable lessons for adults do not need to fade away as our children transition into adolescence. We can learn a lot from the developing minds and personalities of the teens in our lives, too. In his book Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain,* Dr. Daniel Siegel claims that the greatest myth about adolescence is that it is a period of life that “we need to just get through and survive.”

Dr. Siegel has identified four qualities of the human mind during the stage of adolescence that, he explains, contain beautiful and positive qualities that are useful and healthy well into our later adult years. They are as follows:

  1. Novelty seeking: This “emerges from an increased drive for rewards in the circuits of the adolescent brain that creates the inner motivation to try something new and feel life more fully, creating more engagement in life.”
  2. Social engagement: This necessary quality “enhances peer connectedness and creates new friendships.”
  3. Increased emotional intensity: This quality also works to add vitality and energy to daily routines. It is a “vital drive that gives an exuberance and zest for being alive on the planet.”
  4. Creative exploration: This quality is not only about the act of creating or appreciating art. It has more to do with the adolescent’s growing ability to think on a conceptual and abstract level. This new thinking leads to “approaching problems with ‘out of the box’ strategies, the creation of new ideas, and the emergence of innovation.”

These four developmental qualities are inherent in the adolescent mind and can be admired for their life-enhancing value. What adults can learn as we observe and guide the young people in our lives is the importance of cultivating the fruits of these healthy qualities in our own lives. These are areas of everyday living that tend to get stifled by the many responsibilities and pressure of adult life; but, with some effort, they can be rediscovered and harnessed for their life-enhancing and transformative potential.

For the adolescent, however, Dr. Siegel points out that these four qualities also have their stumbling blocks. Along with these positive qualities come the adolescent’s vulnerability to peer pressure, the lack of direction and purpose they may feel that would otherwise help them thrive, the impulsivity and risk-taking, and a lack of consideration of consequences for their actions. Viewed together, the downsides of these important qualities all speak to the adolescent’s need to learn resilience. While adolescents are “wired” to have a beautiful and creative zest for life, they are also wired to experience frequent setbacks and failures.

So what do we do when failure presents itself in our children and students? Dr. Montessori not only suggested that we “follow the child,” she went on to say that we should “follow the child as their leader.” While we can seek inspiration from the minds of young people, they seek wisdom and guidance from the adults in their lives. And what they often need most of all from us is to learn the art of resilience.

“Resilience means being flexible and strong in the face of stress, and it is what we need to approach any of the challenges of life and rise above adversity, learn from the experience, and move on with vitality and passion.” --Dr. Daniel J. Siegel

There are some practical interactions that can help nurture a growing sense of resilience in the developing young mind.**

  1. Encourage your daughter/son to share their challenges and disappointments with you, and then be sure to really listen. But remember: You do not have to solve the issues. In fact, you usually shouldn’t! Allow them to struggle with their challenges and to use their new ability of creative thinking to find real solutions to their own problems.
  2. Consistently support them through times of adversity by letting them know that they have the skills to deal with difficulties. Cite examples from the past—help them to learn from their own previous experiences.
  3. Help them work toward realistic goals, and respond to them honestly when they make progress. Not praise, but acknowledgment… ”It seems that you really reached that goal. What do you think?”
  4. Lead by example yourself. Take care of yourself and maintain an optimistic and hopeful outlook. They are looking for healthy adult behavior to model.
  5. Remind them often that mistakes are effective learning opportunities. They enable us to know ourselves better and to develop strategies and skills for the future.

We have so much to learn from one another, adolescents and adults. If we keep our lines of communication open, healthy, and informed, we can help one another to live more fully and with greater purpose.

(Footnotes)

*This book is highly recommended. The author encourages parents and teens to read it together.

**Suggestions are credited to Montessori consultant and former middle school coordinator at HMS, Pat Ludick, who was in turn inspired by a presentation given by Montessori AMI consultant Carol Alver.

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