Narrator [00:00:02] Welcome to the Emerging Minds podcast.
Sophie Guy [00:00:08] Today, we would like to introduce a special collection of episodes as part of the Emerging Minds’ podcast series. Usually our episodes feature an academic, practitioner or sometimes a child and family partner, who provide insights into children’s mental health. In this series, we meet the characters Shame, Resilience, and Secrecy, and explore the vital function each play in the supporting and/or diminishing children’s mental health. By understanding more about the role that Shame, Secrecy, and Resilience play in children’s social and emotional wellbeing, we hope to spark new ways of thinking about how practitioners can support children’s mental health.
Sophie Guy [00:00:46] On today’s episode, we have the special opportunity to speak with Resilience. Resilience is an important part of a child’s mental health and development. And while we all have resilience, everyone’s resilience is different. This is a rare chance to hear from Resilience about the things that help it grow, stay strong, and be present in a child’s life. Resilience – thank you for joining us on the Emerging Minds podcast series.
Resilience [00:01:12] Yeah, thanks for having me, Sophie.
Sophie Guy [00:01:14] Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, Resilience, and the work you do?
Resilience [00:01:19] Yeah, sure. I have to say, it feels like people have been talking about me more and more lately. I hear my name in conversations about the bushfires, and when schools closed during the Covid lockdowns, and even about the environment and climate change. There’s a lot of work resiliences like me can do – but my role, specifically, is as a child’s emotional and psychological resilience – which is a different thing to say, community resilience. Most people have a pretty good understanding of how I can help someone recover and move forward after a challenge. I’ve heard the counsellors at Headspace explaining what I do as, ‘Helping people turn setbacks into comebacks’ – and I quite like that, actually. Everyone has their own resilience, and it’s unique to each person. And my work is as Jenny’s resilience. She’s 11 years old and she’s really tough and gutsy, but she’s also a very caring kid. She’s been through a lot, and she’s used a lot of resilience in her life, even though she doesn’t always realise it.
Sophie Guy [00:02:26] OK. And can you tell us more about how you work with Jenny, and when you first became present in Jenny’s life?
Resilience [00:02:33] Yeah well, I’ve known Jenny since she was born, and I’ve been growing and changing alongside her ever since. Like all kids’ resilience, how strong I can become depends on a really wide range of factors. There are the things that Jenny was born with – like her genes and her temperament, her personality. But there’s also the environment around her: her family, her school and her community. Plus the people in her life and the opportunities that she has to learn. And together, all of these things play a part in who Jenny is as a person.
Sophie Guy [00:03:08] OK.
Resilience [00:03:08] But yeah, not all kids need to turn to their resilience as young or as often as Jenny has, though. She’s faced a lot of challenges already. This really all started with the abuse and neglect she experienced in her house when she was young. Jenny’s earliest memories are of living in a house with a lot of different adults coming and going. Some of those adults made her feel safe, but some of them certainly didn’t. Then when she was six, Jenny was removed from her birth parents. We’ve worked together a lot since then.
Sophie Guy [00:03:44] That’s a really tough start for Jenny.
Resilience [00:03:47] Yeah, poor Jenny. It really was. Also, around that time she was separated from her sister Charlie. And they’ve both spent the last five years in different foster homes. And that’s been particularly hard for Jenny. She really loves her little sister, and she wants her to be safe and happy. Charlie has a hard time making friends, and Jenny feels guilty that she’s not around to protect her more often – because we all know that’s what big sisters do, right?
Sophie Guy [00:04:16] Right.
Resilience [00:04:17] There’s been a string of foster carers since then, and some problems at school. And it’s not always easy for Jenny. There was an incident recently where she threw a chair in her classroom; and now she has to go and see someone about that. And sometimes, Jenny spends ages just staring into the mirror and asking herself why she’s such a loser … But, you know, despite all of this stuff, Jenny never misses a day of school – and she does everything she can to help Charlie. And this is where I’ve been a huge help, even during those hard times.
Sophie Guy [00:04:52] It sounds like Jenny has been through a lot. So how is resilience affected in children who experience trauma?
Resilience [00:05:00] A lot of children who experience trauma get the wrong idea that what happened was their fault, or that they are a bad kid. For Jenny, the impacts of abuse and neglect and the separation from her family have had a huge impact on her life, and how she feels about herself and the world. She’s often really hard on herself and spends a lot of time focussing on what she does wrong. Even though Jenny spends a lot of time thinking about what she sees as negatives about herself, I’m much more interested in her skills and her strengths and her values – even the ones that she doesn’t see yet. But resilience does look different for different people. One of the ways I’ve helped Jenny is to practise ‘protest’ in her life when she sees something that she thinks is unfair. Jenny’s got a really strong sense of fairness, which has been shaped and enhanced by her experiences. And it also shapes the work that I do.
Sophie Guy [00:05:56] OK.
Resilience [00:05:57] It’s actually something I really admire about Jenny, and I wish she could see how special it is. And I also wish there were more adults in her life who could see it, too.
Sophie Guy [00:06:08] It sounds like you have your work cut out for you, Resilience.
Resilience [00:06:11] Yeah, absolutely Sophie. Sometimes it feels like Jenny and I are sitting alone together on one side of a seesaw, and it’s just us trying not to be tipped over by all the negative weights on the other side: things like the abuse she’s been through, the negative things people say about her, and the misconceptions she has about who she’s becoming and how she’s to blame for everything.
Sophie Guy [00:06:34] That’s a lot to be up against. So how have you managed to keep the seesaw balanced towards you, Resilience, during these challenges?
Resilience [00:06:42] Well, on my side, we have Jenny’s strong traits – like her assertiveness and her independence, and her empathy and her strong sense of duty. These have really helped me tip the scales, even when there have been lots of negative weights stacked up against Jenny.
Sophie Guy [00:06:58] OK.
Resilience [00:06:58] Also, Jenny has had some helpful adults in her life. She had a great foster mom called Julie, who Jenny lived with before Julie had to move interstate. And Julie was great at picking up on things like Jenny’s determination and her sense of fair play. She used to say things like, ‘Oh, I’d give anything to have your spirit!’ … which really helped Jenny start to think of herself in different ways. Sometimes I can remind Jenny of her determination and her sense of justice, too. These kind of supports and the positive beliefs budding in Jenny’s mind also help to tip the seesaw in our direction.
Sophie Guy [00:07:39] I see. And so you mentioned some of the traits Jenny was born with, and how these have been helpful for you. Can you tell me more about that?
Resilience [00:07:47] Yeah, that’s right. Each person has traits or characteristics which help to balance their particular seesaw. When she was young and facing abuse and neglect, it was Jenny’s internal traits that helped me be strong, and helped Jenny keep going as well. For example, no matter what happened, Jenny was always a great sister to Charlie – and that shows a lot of resilience.
Sophie Guy [00:08:14] Yeah.
Resilience [00:08:15] I could be even stronger with some extra support – things like supportive adults in Jenny’s life and the environments around her. Just to help her see more of the positive things about herself. That would really help me thrive as Jenny keeps growing.
Sophie Guy [00:08:30] Yeah. So, could you tell us more about what resilience looks like for Jenny? You mentioned it’s different for different people.
Resilience [00:08:39] Yeah, it’s different – that’s exactly right, Sophie. And I have to say, I don’t always get a lot of credit working as Jenny’s resilience. The adults in her life don’t always see her actions necessarily as resilient ones. Like I said earlier, because of what happened to Jenny when she was little, and then being in placements where she hasn’t always been happy, being surrounded by people who aren’t all that supportive or encouraging – it’s a real effort for Jenny to even get up and go to school. But the fact that she keeps turning up, now that’s resilient! Jenny is a really fierce advocate for her little sister, too. She has a very strong sense of right and wrong, and she puts in a lot of effort speaking up for her sister Charlie, and checking that she’s going OK. And when Jenny sees unfairness in her life, she really draws on me then. She uses resilience to speak up about that unfairness. Like the other day, after a whole string of conversations with Trudy her foster mum, Trudy finally agreed to have Charlie over for dinner every Wednesday night. Jenny really persisted with this, and I think Trudy could see that Jenny wasn’t going to budge one little bit until she found a way of keeping in touch with Charlie. And when I see this kind of thing, I’m really proud of Jenny and everything we’re working on together.
Sophie Guy [00:10:00] And why do you think Jenny’s actions aren’t always recognised as resilience?
Resilience [00:10:05] Well, Jenny tries hard to speak out when she sees something that she doesn’t think is fair, and that often involves some really strong reactions. And some of Jenny’s protest behaviours land her quite a bit of trouble.
Sophie Guy [00:10:20] OK.
Resilience [00:10:20] Sometimes when she’s worried about something, like her separation from Charlie, her responses can be pretty full-on. Last week, for example, wasn’t a great week: she threw a chair in her classroom. She was just so mad, and Anger really took over for a minute or two. She really scared the other kids in her class, and she scared herself too, actually. Jenny can be fierce and strong, but this kind of aggressive behaviour just isn’t like her at all. But given everything that Jenny has been through, it’s no wonder that this kind of stuff happens. She’d also just found out about her sister moving schools … and together, it tipped her resilience seesaw towards the negative weights in her life that day. It’s especially helpful when the adults in Jenny’s life think about the big picture when they engage with her. After that chair incident, Jenny was referred to a psychologist. It’s helping her understand how she uses protest in certain situations, and what works and doesn’t work within that. The psychologist has also helped Jenny see the importance of fairness in her life. And that’s something that Jenny’s never actually understood about herself before.
Sophie Guy [00:11:32] OK. People are really interested in how we can build resilience in kids and in adults. So what are some of the main things that make you stronger and help you do your work?
Resilience [00:11:43] Well, one of the most influential things that helps me grow strong and shifts the scales towards resilience, is the presence of supportive adults in a kid’s life. Someone who can help the child feel nurtured, supported and safe. And unfortunately, this is something that just hasn’t been there for Jenny at different times. When she was eight, she had a really positive relationship with her previous foster mum, Julie. And even though she and her current foster mum, Trudy, fight a lot, Trudy really does want what’s best for Jenny.
Sophie Guy [00:12:18] OK.
Resilience [00:12:18] And Jenny plays netball, too. Her coach is always telling her that she’s really skilful, and how she appreciates how Jenny involves her team-mates by passing the ball around. So when Jenny’s at practice or at games, Shame – whom I believe you’ve met – and Self-blame, they just can’t keep up. And that really helps me get stronger, too. The other adults in Jenny’s life haven’t always been so good at seeing her strengths or her behaviours as ways of communicating. They just see Jenny as someone who’s a bad influence, or someone who doesn’t want to follow the rules. And this really reinforces a lot of the negative beliefs Jenny has about herself.
Sophie Guy [00:13:01] OK.
Resilience [00:13:02] But yeah, Julie did seem to appreciate Jenny’s ability to stand up for herself and for her sister, and other people. She helped Jenny see these strengths, which really contradict her negative self-beliefs. Yeah, and then there’s Jenny’s psychologist, who’s starting to ask questions about Jenny’s relationship with Charlie. And that’s sort of got Jenny questioning some of the assumptions she has about herself – some of the things around how and why she’s managed to keep a relationship with her sister going. Because yeah, really, it would have been quite easy for Jenny to have become estranged from Charlie after the separation. But she’s made sure that the relationship has survived – and in lots of ways has thrived, in spite of all the obstacles.
Sophie Guy [00:13:47] Can you talk a little bit about how the supportive adults have helped change the way Jenny thinks about herself?
Resilience [00:13:54] Yeah. Well, Jenny’s noticed that she started to think about how she has managed to maintain a close relationship with her sister, despite all of the challenges. When she thinks about that, it makes her feel quite proud. She starts to recognise that her sister might be in a better place, because of her. Jenny hasn’t spent much time thinking about what she’s good at, though – and there haven’t always been a lot of people around reminding her of her strengths, either. She does spend a lot of time thinking about why things happen, and how they might be all her fault. She also thinks about all the things that could go wrong … And these kinds of negative thoughts have become part of what you might call a ‘survival instinct’ for Jenny now. But having supportive adults around – like Julie, like her netball coach and her psychologist – it’s helping Jenny feel a bit more hopeful about the future.
Sophie Guy [00:14:52] OK, that’s good to hear. So do you often work closely with Jenny’s Hope?
Resilience [00:14:57] Yeah, Hope! I do, actually. Through all of this stuff, even though she has doubts about the future and sometimes she has an expectation that people will let her down, Jenny is in regular contact with Hope.
Sophie Guy [00:15:12] OK.
Resilience [00:15:12] Jenny’s hope is really intertwined with her ideas of fairness. Jenny’s really into the idea of fairness, for herself and for her sister. And even when she sees unfair situations playing-out for other people, like kids in her school. And fairness brings out really strong responses in Jenny. And she wouldn’t be able to do that without hope … and the idea that she hopes for change. But, you know, throughout everything, Jenny hasn’t just laid down and thought, ‘Well, it’s going to be like this for the rest of my life.’ She might expect or worry about things going wrong at times, but ultimately, she does hope that they’re going to change. And she draws on me, and she just perseveres. Jenny hasn’t always been great at asking for help, either – but since she started seeing her psychologist, she’s become a lot more hopeful that adults or other people in her life may be able to help her have different or more positive experiences in the future. And this will be important for my work soon, actually.
Sophie Guy [00:16:16] Oh, OK. It sounds like maybe there’s more change coming for Jenny.
Resilience [00:16:21] Yeah …
Sophie Guy [00:16:21] And that she’ll need a lot of resilience to get through. Do you have everything you need already to be there for Jenny, or are there things that could help you out?
Resilience [00:16:32] Well, I could always do with a helping hand! I overheard Jenny’s psychologist talking to Trudy about starting to make plans to help Jenny notice her values of fairness and justice.
Sophie Guy [00:16:42] OK.
Resilience [00:16:42] And to help her notice when her protests work best for her. These kind of supports really help me out, and help me stay strong. It’ll also mean that Jenny and I have a kind of a roadmap to understand her emotions and behaviours a bit better. But yeah, it’s something that Jenny’s psychologist has started to bring up: she’s getting the adults in Jenny’s life to work together, and to start to notice things about Jenny that she’s observed. The things that Jenny is good at, like her tendency for fairness and kindness. These adults are often the ones that witness Jenny’s behaviours of protest. So they know first-hand that these behaviours haven’t really worked out for Jenny … or anyone else, really. But they’re starting to see them without labelling Jenny – not calling her a rule breaker or calling her a brat.
Sophie Guy [00:17:35] It sounds like maybe they’re starting to take a strengths-based approach in their work with Jenny?
Resilience [00:17:39] Yeah, yeah, that’s right. This kind of support could really help shift Jenny’s negative self-perceptions and help her develop some trust in the people around her. Because for kids, having someone who believes in them, who praises the good things that they notice about them, and encourages their independence and encourages their ambitions – that’s just a huge factor in developing their resilience. And that’s the kind of environment where I can really thrive. And as I think I mentioned a bit earlier, as Jenny moves into adolescence, this support will go a long way towards making me strong. If we can start adding more and more positive weights to Jenny’s resilience scales, outside of those stressful situations, that will really help her now, and throughout the rest of her life when things get tough.
Sophie Guy [00:18:27] OK. And I’m wondering, are there things that Jenny can do to make you stronger?
Resilience [00:18:32] Yes, sure. But it’s a lot to ask of a little kid, I reckon, without help. I think if she has her psychologist helping her out, and a teacher or a foster carer on her side, Jenny would be in a good place to practise more compassionate self-talk and appreciation. On the days when Jenny is with her psychologist, Shame and Self-blame, they really don’t have much to say. Instead, Jenny’s Compassion and her Trust and her Hope – they’re spending more time at the front of Jenny’s mind. And that’s like super-fuel for me, making me stronger and stronger. Jenny’s also working on other ways to talk with people about things that she thinks are unfair, and what she’s worried about. But there are a lot of emotions for Jenny: she’s still really worried about her sister, and who will be there to look out for her at the new school. And when all of these emotions are being really loud in Jenny’s life, all at the same time, it gets overwhelming for her. And she doesn’t always say or do the things that she knows she should. But yeah Sophie, she’s working on it! The psychologist has been putting together some positive coping strategies with Jenny, teaching her how to notice and name her feelings when they arise. And how to use slow breathing to calm herself down when she’s feeling angry or anxious or overwhelmed. And despite everything that’s happened for Jenny, she’s always made really active decisions in her life – which stands in pretty stark contrast to the abuse and the neglect that she’s been through. What can I say? Jenny’s just such a strong and caring kid, and as I grow stronger, I’m going to keep being there for her and helping her out.
Sophie Guy [00:20:22] Well yeah, Jenny certainly carries a heavy burden for a kid her age – but it sounds like you’re a powerful ally, Resilience, on her journey to becoming a healthy and confident adult. We’ll leave the conversation there for today. Thank you so much for speaking with me Resilience, and it’s been really great to hear more about your work.
Resilience [00:20:42] Yeah no worries Sophie, thanks so much for having me.
Narrator [00:20:46] Visit our website at www.emergingminds.com.au to access a range of resources to assist your practice. Brought to you by the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health, led by Emerging Minds. The National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health under the National Support for Child and Youth Mental Health Program.