The Language of Resilient Families


By Michael Grose

Families develop their own language that has meaning for them. “This is non-negotiable” has significant meaning in my tribe, going way beyond displaying an unwillingness to argue or negotiate.

It was a term that found its way into the family lexicon when I was parenting adolescents. It usually accompanied a parent request or expectation. 

“You need to come to your grandma’s place this Sunday. It’s her birthday so it’s non-negotiable.” 

End of story! No arguments entered into!

This is such a strong part of our family’s proprietary language that my adult daughter’s partner now uses it when establishing the limits of his familial obligations. When testing the waters to see if he’s expected at a family function he’ll invariably ask, “Is next Friday night’s dinner a non-negotiable?”

The term has withstood the test of time.

Families develop their own language around what’s important to them and around how they function. 

Similarly, families develop their own words and phrases to help each other get through the inevitable tough times that each person experiences. The language of resilience generally refers to coping strategies such as empathy, humour and acceptance. 

As a rule of thumb, in resilient families children and adults tune into the needs of each other, choosing situation-specific language, rather than simply regurgitating generalised ‘feel-good’ or ‘get-on-with-it’ platitudes.

Following are 8 examples of the language of resilience, the coping skills each reflects and the types of situations where they are applicable.

1 “Come on, laugh it off.”  Strategy: humour
Good for: kids who experience disappointment, failure and even loss. 

Humour is a great coping strategy and a powerful tool for resilience as it heightens feelings of control. Some children and young people will naturally crack jokes or make fun of seemingly serious situations. This is a fantastic way to release stress and handle feelings of helplessness. As a parent you may need to lighten up tense situations by introducing humour of your own, which is something that many dads do really well. 

2 “Don’t let this spoil everything.”  Strategy: containing thinking
Good for: kids who feel overwhelmed; kids who experience rejection; perfectionists

The ability to compartmentalise bad events and keep them from affecting all areas of life is a powerful coping skill. Sportspeople, politicians and others who work in the public arena need to be adept at it. When something unpleasant happens during recess, for example, kids need to park their thinking about that event so they can get on with the rest of the day. The ability to compartmentalise thinking is a fantastic life skill kids can learn within their family.

3 “Let’s take a break.”  Strategy: distraction
Good for: kids experiencing stressful situations; kids who think too much; kids with busy lives. 

When kids are troubled by events or spend too much time brooding it helps to do something to get their minds off things for a time. Playing games, spending time together, watching some TV, going out – are all good distracters for worried, anxious or stressed kids. Self-distraction is healthy, providing some welcome perspective. It also prevents kids from replaying awful experiences in their heads, blowing them out of proportion.

4 “Who have you spoken to about this?”  Strategy: seeking help
Good for: kids who experience bullying and social problems; handling all types of personal worries.

Resilient people seek solace in the company of others when they experience difficulty. That’s why social connection is such a strong preventative strategy for young people. The promotion of help-seeking behaviours is one of the best coping strategies of all. Even if kids don’t overtly talk about what’s bothering them, it can be immensely reassuring to spend time around others who are empathetic, understanding and willing to listen and help. 

5 “Everyone feels bad sometimes.”  Strategy: normalising events
Good for: kids who lose perspective; kids who take things too personally; persistent worriers.

It’s human nature to think that we are the only people who have experienced certain situations. However the human condition suggests that this is rarely the case. Let kids know that they are not alone in their experiences and, just as others have discovered, “this difficult situation too will pass”. They need to hang in there (another piece of resilience language)!

6 “I know it looks bad now but you will get through this.”  Strategy: offering hope
Good for: kids experiencing loss, bullying, change or extreme disappointment.

There are times when parents can do nothing else but keep their children’s chins up and encourage them when life doesn’t go their way. Being the ‘hope’ person can be hard work, that’s why parents need to be supported by resilient people and workplaces too.It helps to be mindful that a child or young person’s resilience is nurtured by the presence of at least one supportive adult. You may have to be that person!

7 “What can you learn from this so it doesn’t happen next time?”  Strategy: positive reframing
Good for: kids who make mistakes, let others down or experience personal disappointment

One of the common attributes of optimistic people is their ability to find a learning, or look for a message, in difficult or negative situations. Parents can help kids reframe events to help them see things differently. For instance, rather than regarding a public speaking opportunity as problematic and a chance to look foolish it’s better to reframe it as a challenge and a chance to shine. It also helps when parents model reframing so kids see you changing how you view seemingly negative or worrying situations.

8 “What can we do about this?”  Strategy: taking action
Good for: kids who mope; who experience disappointment; who feel inadequate.

Kids can sometimes feel overwhelmed by events such as constant failure, constant rejection or always narrowly missing being picked for a team. They can be overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and helplessness. Action is often the best remedy. Help them take the first step forward. Set some goals. Make some plans. Identify the first step and hold their hand while they take it. Taking action is a quality shared by resilient communities, organisations and individuals. 

The key to promoting resilience lies in the language that parents use. My challenge for parents is to make resilience an integral part of your family’s proprietary language. You’ll know you have succeeded if your children as adults remind you, when they hear any complaints or whinges from you in your dotage to ‘hang in there’, ‘this too will pass’ and ‘find the funny side’. Granted they may be phrases you don’t want to hear, but at least you know that you’ve drummed into your kids some important core messages that have stayed for life.

First published by Michael Grose on 18 June 2016 –

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Peninsula Kids Magazine – Autumn 2016


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