Resilience. Why it matters. Why our kids don’t have enough of it. Why it is important that they do.

Lina Ashar
9 min readJul 2, 2020

In 2006, I had the most challenging year as an adult. I was 42 years old and in a state of deep depression. My marriage had crumbled, a schooling business I had built was unravelling, I had no money to pay my staff salaries, and my credibility — something that was extremely important to me — was being questioned by parents of my schools and the media almost on a daily basis. I barely had the mental, emotional, or physical strength to get out of bed in the morning. Yet that is exactly what I did. Day after day I got out of bed and piece by piece began reconstructing my business, my credibility, and my life. Resilience is what allowed me to show up.

Fast forward to today. I rebuilt the business, bought my dream home and holiday home. I sold my schooling business at its peak and have begun working on my next project. Why did I sell the brick and mortar school business? I knew at the end of the day, however much I tried to do the correct thing for children at my schools, they still had to face standardised Board testing. I also knew that what gets measured and tested is what parents would insist we focus on. I was done with an outside-in approach to learning. I was done with a barrage of academic focus. I wanted to focus on what really counts. What life will test, even if standardised tests do not. I wanted to take an inside-out approach to optimising human potential.

The next project has, at its core, key questions that I am intensely curious about.

  • What are the essential thoughts, values, beliefs, stories that people have that allow them to live happy, healthy, meaningful, and successful lives and face challenges with a different set of mind muscles to those that do not?
  • What allows some people to bounce back from a setback, challenge or adversity?
  • What do these people have in common?
  • Are there tools and resources to help parents and educators shape, develop and optimise the neurocognitive characteristics that are essential for success?
  • Are there specific things we can do as parents as we bring up our children that could help them develop these neurocognitive characteristics?

Each one of us has a personal choice to make in the light of our experiences. We can choose to be a victim and replay challenging events over and over again, or we can choose to use the experience as a driver for growth. The research conducted in this area shows that early challenging experiences in plants, animals and humans can sometimes act as an advantage as it builds resilience, one of the habits of mind that contributes to achieving success in life.

If we can find meaning amidst the challenges and trauma, then we are on the road to developing resilience.

Resilience is a psychological muscle that is needed to live a happy, successful, and healthy life and it is a well-studied concept in positive psychology. Does this have something to do with our childhood experiences, I wondered?

I rewound to my childhood. As I neared the age of one, I was placed in frog plaster for months to correct congenital hip dislocation. At the age of 9, I underwent two painful surgeries for surgical rotations of my thighs. Each time after long stints in bed, I would have to painfully learn to walk again. We then got ready to go to Australia from India and I had to deal with being separated for my father for 6 months, who I was extremely attached to. When we reached Australia, we lived in a distant suburb where the winds were bitterly cold. We did not have enough money for efficient heating. My older brother, younger brother and I shared a room, which today we call a matchbox room. Big enough to house the mattress we three shared.

My younger brother who was 6 at the time, and I who was 9 would walk to school that was an hour’s walk from our home and an hour back. When at school, we had our normal share of childhood bullying, maybe a little more than a normal share given that we were coloured and did not always have ‘things’ like the trendy shoes, lunchbox or pencil case that would allow us to ‘fit in’. Once we reached home, we would then wait for our parents, who left home at 6.30 to go to work and would arrive home at 8.30. Neither parent had the time to help us with homework or worry about our school test results or report card. Mom would come home, and we would sit down to eat what we today call the one-pot meal. Rice, lentils, and some vegetable all cooked together in the pressure cooker. We all had our share of chores. My older brother was 10 and a half and he washed the dishes most nights. My daily job was everyone’s lunch. I would make 10 sandwiches for the 5 of us. Cheese and tomato, peanut- butter and honey. My brothers complained that sometimes I forgot to butter the bread or add the cheese.

A birthday treat was a McDonalds meal. Each mango season we would buy one mango and share it. After two years of being in Australia, mom and dad scraped together some money and bought us a tiny black and white box television. We were absolutely overjoyed. When I was 12, I took a job at a milk-bar at a service station in Melbourne. I would continue to do part-time jobs all through high school and college as a flower girl, a waitress and an attendant in an old people’s home and various child-care centres.

As I begin to research and understand what the neurocognitive characteristics are, that allow us to live happy, meaningful, and successful lives, I look back with gratitude for my childhood. All three of us siblings do. At the time, when we were growing up, it felt like a normal childhood. I believe it is those experiences that allow me to bounce back resiliently from normal day-to-day challenges or even the overload of challenges that I experienced in 2006. Most people thought I would run back to my home in Australia in 2006 and wind up the business I had set up. This may have happened if it was not for my childhood experiences.

The neurocognitive characteristic that I used is known as resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from stress, adversity, failure, challenges and even trauma. Resilient children and adults are more likely to take healthy risks. They are brave, curious, and trusting of their instincts. They are more likely to find success in entrepreneurial ventures.

The research on resilience and entrepreneurship shows that some of the common aspects of what sort of childhood builds the resilience brain muscle are: high levels of self-reliance at an early age, independence, self-sufficiency, ambiguity and a feeling of being capable. It also helps if their primary role model is resilient. I watched my father, supported by my mother, start his business life from scratch three times.

Watching my father and hearing his stories provided my brain with valuable insights into what it takes to be successful. Life is replete with various types of experiences, some of which can make or break us. But the truth is, the outcome of any experience often relies on the individual and his thoughts, values, beliefs, and stories. It is why, when faced with adversity, one person gets stuck and may crumble or give up, and another is able to use it to move past their zone of comfort and find traction to move forward. No one can always be in control of what comes their way, but they are completely in control of their response.

When you have resilience as a character strength, it helps you rise after setbacks and challenges. It gives you the ability to see past them and better handle the feelings that arise. Those who lack resilience dwell on problems, feel victimised, become overwhelmed and look to distractions such as substance abuse to distance themselves from the feelings that bring them discomfort.

As parents, we want to raise our children to be happy, healthy, to find meaning and purpose and to be successful. One thing to do as a parent is to model resilient behaviour when you face a setback or challenge. A lot of the parents of the children in my schools were doing it all wrong.

Here is a list of some of the active parenting behaviours that do not build resilience, and a list of what is more likely to build resilience.

1- Telling the teacher off for the knee scrape your child has.

Learning early to fall, get up and to deal with pain and discomfort that does not have serious health consequences makes it more likely that your child will be better able to handle more serious difficulties in life. Studies show that early exposure to manageable stress increase activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Studies by Cambridge University Press shows a correlation between the prefrontal cortex development and resilience in young people. Remember that resilience means lower levels of anxiety and depression.

2- Intervening in your child’s relationships with other children including non-physical bullying.

Having relationships and other obstacles are what helps children build resilience and develop coping skills when faced with challenges. Children need to think of strategies to cope with normal childhood bullying. Parents today do not want to see their children suffer at all. Without any suffering, you build no coping skills for when you do suffer. You need small doses to build immunity.

3- ‘Fixing’ their child’s need to be on the basketball team, in the front row of a school dance performance by influence or coercion.

An overprotected child grows into an adult who does not know how to fix things for him or herself. If your children have not built the coping tools to face disappointment, to have to struggle and persevere on their own, they will feel overwhelmed as adults. This sort of not coping after a relationship breakup, loss of a job or other setbacks often leads to depression.

4- Being overly invested in the outcome of your child’s academic, sporting, or artistic development.

Be interested in the process but do not get overly invested in the outcome. When you are overly invested in the outcome your child does not own their own accomplishment.

5- Doing your child’s project. You may guide but not do.

When you do the project, you communicate to your child that he or she does not have the capability to manage this independently. What builds confidence in kids is working hard at something and seeing it through to completion. Let them cope with the result, positive or negative.

6- Not following up with consequences.

I know of a lot of parents who lay down rules and consequences but then don’t follow up with the consequences. Negotiating rules and consequences and following up on implementing them helps children to develop and internalise their own moral compass and to set limits for themselves as adults.

7- Pushing your children to finish their homework and study for tests.

Whatever responsibility you assume allows them to not assume[1] . Having children apply, complete homework and do well for meeting your approval, does not build resilience. Whatever they succeed at must be for their own sake. Children must develop the understanding that they have the power to shape their own lives.

8- Protecting your child from problems that may cause anxiety. In times of financial setbacks still making sure your child has all the material comforts he/she wants.

Many parents hide financial and other problems they are facing from their children. Dealing with challenges is one of the most empowering skills your child needs to develop. If you explain things calmly to your child and show your child how you practice cautious optimism, your child will be better prepared for challenging situations that may arise.

9- Berating children who do poorly on assessment tasks.

Failure must be treated as an opportunity to learn. Apart from asking your child what techniques, strategies or changes he or she would want to do differently next time, allow them to experience failure and let them know that you see failure as an opportunity to learn.

10- Giving your child whatever he or she demands.

Coddled kids feel over-important, entitled, and lack emotional intelligence and empathy. These are essential for the development of emotional resilience.

To help children grow into adults who can see past their pain, parents need to help them develop resilience. Discomfort, rejection and failure are a natural part of life. Resilience like some of the other neurocognitive characteristics is a better indicator of your child finding a life of health, happiness, meaning and success than IQ or grades. Some amount of short-term gain to enable long-term gain may be desired on the road to resilience.

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Lina Ashar

Founder of Kangaroo Kids & Billabong High, Lina Ashar started her career as a teacher and today is one of the most renowned educators and edupreneur in India.