Since the beginning of 2020, we have had earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and now COVID-19. More than self-esteem, experts say that children today need to develop resilience to overcome the stresses and catastrophes they face so they can triumph over the traumas of life.
Resilience is defined as “the capacity to face, overcome and be strengthened by or even transformed by the adversities of life” (Grotberg 1995). Before I list what research finds as promoting resilience in children, let us visit how one showed resilience in overcoming one tragedy after another and came out victorious.
Joseph (Genesis 35, 37, 39-41) had a rough time growing up. He had many older siblings from the same father but different mothers, and they all lived close together in the same community. Tragically, his mother died while giving birth to his youngest brother Benjamin. Joseph herded sheep together with his older brothers, and related to his father Jacob the bad things they were doing which made them hate him. Jacob favored Joseph among his sons and gave him a multi-colored coat, which filled his siblings with jealousy. Joseph had vivid dreams of his siblings and even his father bowing down to him, which he related to them that added fuel to their anger of him. His brothers eventually plotted to kill him, but were persuaded to sell him instead to some traveling merchants. The merchants brought Joseph to Egypt and sold him to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s official in charge of the palace guards. Potiphar liked Joseph who distinguished himself in his work. He made Joseph his personal assistant in charge of everything in his household and properties. However, Potiphar’s wife also liked Joseph too much to want to have an affair with him, which he continually and firmly refused. She thus created a scene and lied to her husband so Joseph ended up in prison. In the dungeon, Joseph gained favor with his jailer, who made him in charge of the other prisoners and jail affairs. The king’s butler and baker also ended up in prison where both had dreams that Joseph interpreted and became realities. Two years later, Pharaoh himself had a series of dreams that needed interpretation, and only then did the chief butler remembered Joseph. Out of all of Egypt’s wise men, it was only Joseph who was able to tell and interpret what the dreams were about-seven years off amine then seven years of plenty. Joseph was catapulted from prison to become the highest leader of the land next to Pharaoh, in charge of managing all the resources during plenty to prepare and disburse thereby saving many lives in the years of famine. Joseph’s own dreams finally became reality when his brothers came. They bowed to him, being the second highest leader in the land from whom they had to buy grains from to keep their families alive. The story ended well with Joseph’s entire clan being given land in Egypt to settle in and be well provided for during the years of famine.
What helped Joseph turn every trauma he faced into triumph? First, he had someone who believed in him, and did not focus on those who did not. In every tragic situation, there was his father, then Potiphar, then his jailer, then Pharaoh himself who liked him and entrusted important work to him. Second, Joseph did not harbor bitterness nor thought of revenge towards his brothers, Potiphar’s wife, the chief butler, who all caused him to sink into problematic situations. Third, Joseph faithfully discharged any responsibility given him with skill and wisdom, whether as a servant in a household, in a prison, or in the palace. Fourth, he trusted God who is the dream-giver and dream-fulfiller in every circumstance he found himself in, helping him overcome each difficulty.
Joseph exemplified what research shows as needed of resilient children. Developmental psychologist Dr. Edith Grotberg of the International Resilience Project study mentioned three sources of resilience: I Have – trusting relationships; structure and rules at home; role models; encouragement to be autonomous; access to health, education, security services. I Am – a person others can like and love; glad to do nice things for others; respectful; responsible; filled with hope, faith and trust. I Can – communicate, problem-solve, manage my feelings and impulses, gauge the temperament of others and myself, seek trusting relationships. It takes a combination of two or three of these for the child to thrive and triumph.
In Joseph’s case, he had all three sources of resilience as enumerated earlier. But the account is also clear that the bottom line behind his success was: “The Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man” (Gen. 39:2-6, 21-23; 41:38-40). In these difficult times with the spate of destruction, diseases, and death that could affect our families, it is important that parents promote resilience in children.