Ink or Oil? Teaching Our Children Resilience

Resilience is that desired capacity to recover quickly from disappointment and difficulty. (Did you know the term actually comes from physics? It’s a reference to the property of a material to absorb energy when it is deformed elastically and then, upon unloading, to have this energy recovered.) For our children, it’s the ability to snap back emotionally from a troubled state, rather than becoming overwhelmed and consumed by the trouble. Frankly, youngsters (and adults, for that matter) who can do this well are way ahead of the others.

A Great Object Lesson

The very best way to discuss the powerful attribute of resilience with your son or daughter is to use an object lesson. In this way, comparison and contrast will be long-remembered. This particular object lesson is a great way to demonstrate how our response to trouble and difficulty matters a great deal.

Fill two identical clear glasses will water and place them next to each other. Let the youngster put a single drop of ink or food coloring into one of the glasses. This represents trouble coming into that person’s life. Encourage the child to watch carefully. In a moment or less, the color of the ink or food coloring is dispersed throughout all the water in the glass. Explain:

What happened here? When trouble came to this person’s life, it affected EVERYTHING about them, from the top of their head to the bottom of their feet. There is not a single part of them that is not affected by that one drop of trouble. How might such a person behave? What would be like to be around a person like that?

Next, have the child place a drop of oil (olive oil or cooking oil) into the other glass.

It’s different with this person, isn’t it? Trouble came to them also, but it did not affect ALL of them. The trouble is still there, but it stays on top and does not go deep into the person, at all. Would that person’s behavior be different? How might it be different?

What Does It Mean?

This opens up opportunity for discussion of specific skills of how we better can manage the problems that come into our lives. The discussion could include ways we learn to calm ourselves (self-soothing), from recognizing and releasing physical tension to the careful consideration of earlier stressful times and how we resolved them then. (Either way, experience is a great teacher). The discussion could also include the skill of asking others for help. Also consider how this same object lesson could be used with groups of youngsters (such as church or scouting). ###