In This Together
If we want our young people to grow up to be strong, capable, self-assured, resilient young women, we have to help them take responsibility for themselves, to learn to sort out difficulties for themselves, to cope with set-backs themselves. Because of course life is fraught with setbacks, thwarted dreams, times when things don’t go your way, when you have to stand on your own two feet and be strong in the face of adversity. (Of course life is full of joys and happiness too).
Resilience is the ability to cope with adversity. And you can’t develop the ability to cope with adversity if you don’t ever experience adversity! We want our young people to be resilient – resilient learners, resilient team players, resilient people who can take life’s knocks in whatever form they are dealt them; to deal with life’s “curve balls” and rebound and adapt in the face of adversity.
I have this image in my mind from the sport of Curling. I don’t know much about it! But I have seen some manoeuvre where one or two players go ahead of the puck, rubbing the ice with their sticks to improve the ice ahead and smooth the progress of the puck so that it will go further. Some parents are like this! They want to make everything right for their daughters. They want to continually be there to smooth the path ahead, hovering around to make sure everything is good and happy.
If your daughter is upset – because she didn’t get the lead in the school play, or get selected in the sporting team they wanted to, or gain a school leadership position, or didn’t do as well as they wanted in a test or assignment, what are you going to do about it? Each one of these sorts of setbacks and disappointments are learning experiences, where you can help your daughter to cope with life’s complexities and develop the skills and resilience they need to cope with life’s pains and problems.
Helping your daughter to cope with life’s difficulties necessitates an optimistic approach, demonstrating confidence that your daughter can deal with these issues, an understanding that life is not always easy, that failure is a great way to learn life’s lessons. A calm, steady approach, with an ability to regulate emotions rather than ride the roller coaster of feelings is important. When coping with life’s complexities, resilient people are the ones who believe that they are able to cope, and know that they can “soldier on” and find a solution, a “work-around”, or deal with failure or disappointment. When we help young people cultivate an approach to life that views obstacles as a critical part of success, we help them develop resilience.
When I speak to parents who are upset by or concerned about a decision the school has taken, often they say: “but she really wanted this one”. That isn’t a reason to be given it! Life is filled with disappointments, many of them seriously harder to bear than not getting selected as Class Captain, even if you really wanted that opportunity!
I remember one parent who was concerned that her daughter had missed out on a lead part in the play – there were only a handful places available and her daughter was not selected, and she was so upset. There were other more suitable girls who had been chosen through the audition process. The parent went on to describe the other opportunities that her daughter had missed out on that year. It was as though the parent felt that her daughter should be “given her turn”. I think we fall into the “everyone gets a prize” mentality from infant birthday parties. In pass-the-parcel, we make sure that every person at the party gets a prize. Why? Life isn’t like that!
I think, too, of conversations with parents of girls who have missed out on being elected Prefect. Sometimes the girl is absolutely devastated and the parents want to talk about it and sometimes express their anger and discontent. One parent said to me: “I don’t know what more she could have done for the school – she has always tried her hardest, she has contributed to this long list of school activities, she is always a good friend, her teachers say what a delight she is to teach....”. And of course that is all true.
Parents have all sorts of complaints about what happens in schools! The same people always get the prizes at the Speech Night. The Sports coaches selected wrongly when their daughter was not chosen for the top team. There should be enough places in each and every activity so that everyone who wants something can get it, so that their daughter is not upset. But, in my experience, such decisions are never based on personal likes or dislikes; on malicious intent or deliberate vindictive behaviour towards a girl; nor based on casual, uncaring or sloppy decisions.
Now in these examples above, I am not overly concerned about the fact that the girl was upset. It is reasonable for someone to be upset when they have really wanted something, particularly if they have really worked hard at it and done all they could! But I do worry about the parents of the girl, who wish to complain, to take away that hurt by “fixing things” and getting (by hook or by crook) whatever it was for their daughter.
In the best examples I see, a parent firstly just acknowledges the hurt and pain the girl is suffering. Over time, the parent might encourage the girl to approach the relevant teacher and ask about the decision – to make sure she understands any reasons behind decisions taken or processes applied. But the questions the parents encourage their daughter to ask are things like: “What can I do differently next time?”, or “What other options do I have to pursue my interest in this area?”, or “What can I learn from this experience?”.
The bottom line is that you usually don’t get all you want in life. You don’t get the job you wanted, or the promotion you applied for. But your ability to negotiate the workplace in a mature, thoughtful and developmental way will help you in the long-run, and those sorts of skills can be best practised from an early age at school.
Head of School