The Resilience Project

What’s the best way to change your mood quickly and easily?  Have a glass of wine?  Buy a lottery ticket?  Call a babysitter?

And what about the kids? Give them the iPad? Pass round the biscuit tin? Take them for a hot chocolate?

Actually, it’s none of the above. Research shows there are three things – readily available, free and legal – that can improve your mood almost instantly: music, exercise and laughter.

So next time you’re cranky or fed up or stressed, grab your iPod and listen to Pink, head over to the gym, or watch something funny on YouTube.  You could try this:

And the kids? Kick them out into the garden, turn on the radio or do something guaranteed to make them laugh – watching me dancing around the kitchen always works in our house. I learnt this – and a lot of other useful things – at the recent seminar for parents run by Hugh van Cuylenburg, founder of The Resilience Project.


According to Hugh, resilience is the ability to manage difficulties and bounce back from adversity. Resilient people know they can find a way to make things turn out for the best; really resilient people are ‘bulletproof’.

Hugh, a former primary school teacher, now works with young people in schools teaching them the emotional skills to develop this resilience. He also runs workshops for teachers and parents.

I think, these days, our kids have to negotiate some pretty complex relationships at home and at school, and anything that helps them mange the cut and thrust of the classroom and the school yard is a good thing.

The statistics on mental health are pretty alarming. According to Hugh, 25% of adolescents in Australia will suffer from some sort of mental ill health and these figures don’t seem to be getting any better.  For years, the focus of psychologists has been on what makes people unhappy or depressed and treatment has been aimed at restoring people’s mental health to some kind of neutral norm. Very little attention has been paid to what actually makes people happy, what gets them past that neutral, central point to somewhere much better.

In recent years this has changed with the emergence of the field of Positive Psychology which looks at the idea of positive emotion. Positive emotion is what makes people flourish and thrive and also builds cognitive capacity.

Research suggests that there are two significant things that help us develop positive emotions: gratitude and performing acts of kindness. People who are grateful, who feel and express gratitude on a regular basis, tend to be happier and more resilient. Similarly, performing small acts of kindness for someone each day makes you feel good. When you feel good, you are better at helping and looking after other people which in turns creates more positive emotion.

A substantial part of Hugh’s presentation was based on the work of an American psychologist Karen Reivich who has identified Seven Learnable Attributes of Resilience:  emotional awareness, impulse control, optimism, causal analysis, empathy, self-efficacy and reaching out.

Hugh described what each of these mean and the impact they can have on our sense of well-being.  The one area that really resonated with me in relation to the kids was emotional awareness. Hugh talked about the importance of kids being able to identify exactly how they feel, and of having the language to be able to talk about it. He gave an interesting example.

He works with adolescent boys in the juvenile detention system. These young people, he said, have extremely poor emotional awareness. If you ask them how they feel they say:  ‘s**t’. They just feel ‘s**t’ and that covers everything: sad, annoyed, frustrated, angry, depressed, hopeless etc. The problem is, you need to identify the emotion you are feeling before you can actually do anything about it.

Boys in general, Hugh said, find this more difficult than girls. The workshop Hugh ran with the Grade 5s was designed to help the kids start thinking about how they identify their emotions and give them some language to help them express how they feel. That’s the first step to fixing the problem.

It’s hard to encapsulate the whole presentation here. Hugh also shared some very moving stories and slides of time he spent working with very poor communities in Dhaka in Bangladesh and told an extremely funny story about meeting Buddy Franklin!IMG_6596

I counted at least 100 parents in the audience and clearly people got a lot out of the session; it was thought-provoking and informative and, on a number occasions, laugh out loud funny.IMG_6598

It made me remember something my mum used to say when I was growing up. She had this expression: PMA! Jacqui! Remember PMA! You can do anything as long as you have PMA. It drove me crazy, but I think it rubbed off.

Positive Mental Attitude! It was the seventies!

Katrina Whelan was also at the session and has come up with some great suggestions of books on this subject. Over to Katrina…

I never wanted to be the mother who rushed her children from one activity to the next, cramming their little lives with an overwhelmingly big schedule. Yet somehow, with four children on different schedules, I feel like that mother. And I was reminded of it when my son in Grade Three said to me ‘When does it end?’ Thinking he was talking about the end of the school term I replied, ‘What? School?’. ‘No… everything….’ he said. By everything, I’m pretty sure he meant swimming, footy, music, gymnastics and lacrosse. See? I am that mother.

I was reminded of the importance of slowing down and appreciating the moment at Hugh Van Cuylenburg’s excellent presentation on resilience at school recently. There were lots of ‘take-home’ messages; as a start, my whole family is writing down three things we’re thankful for each night (after just a week or two, I can already say that this exercise has been extremely positive). I also made a point of noting the books Hugh suggested for further reading (I love any excuse to visit a book shop). It was this list that had me thinking about books written for young children on the topic of mindfulness.

While the kids from Grade Three upwards will enjoy the benefits of Hugh’s resilience project in the classroom, I thought it was timely to highlight three particular picture books (suitable for Prep – Grade Two) that have wonderful, relevant and simple messages about mindfulness for younger children.

The first is Take the Time by Maud Roegiers.Take-the-Time-Mindfulness-for-Kids Through gentle rhyming text, Take the Time shows kids how to be self-aware and mindful of their feelings and also provides some very simple strategies for calming down. That may sound a little heavy, but the book is anything but; the basic message is ‘slow down and take time’.

When everything is topsy-turvy with my head spinning and my feet up in the air,
I slow down and take the time to be with my friends,
To stick to things I know,
To close my eyes when I’m hugged…
To do the things that make me feel good.

The second book is Today We Have No Plans by Jane When I first read it, I was completely wooed by Anna Walker’s beautiful illustrations (find the picture of the swimming pool to see what I mean). And then I let the words sink in; they’re wonderful. The story follows an ordinary week in the lives of a little girl and boy beginning with the rush of Monday morning, to swimming on Tuesday, after-school care on Wednesday, music on Thursday, shopping on Friday and sports on Saturday.

But then… Sometimes when Sunday comes around
Clocks seem to slow their hands
And Mum and Dad don’t rush about
They say, ‘We are not going out,
Today we have no plans.’

And so follows a lovely description of pyjama days, building cubbies, baking cakes, playing in the backyard, doing craft and basically taking the time to slow down. The book has broad relevance, no matter how many extra-curricular activities are on your schedule.

Finally, Dallas Clayton’s An Awesome Book of Thanks! an-awesome-book-of-thanks-bThis a terrific choice for kids of all ages, particularly for reluctant readers. The quirky drawings and off-beat text describe all the things we can be thankful for, from ‘…foxes, dachshunds, oxen, snakes…’to ‘Thanks to music and dancing and singing…’. The book is also peppered with other with more subtle messages about gratitude. For example, a picture of a monster falling off his skateboard is accompanied by ‘Thanks for those bumps and those bruises that turn ‘couldn’ts’ into ‘could’.an-awesome-book-of-thanks-a

Take the Time and An Awesome Book of Thanks! are available online from Book Depository.

Today We Have No Plans is widely available at all good bookshops.

Also check out Dallas Clayton’s webpage, where you can read some of his books online.

 he books Hugh referred to in his session are:  

Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman

Flourish by Martin Seligman

The Resilience Factor by Karen Reivich

Love 2.0 by Barbara Fredrickson

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Jacqui Tomlins and Katrina Whelan

Some cause happiness wherever they go: others whenever they go: Oscar Wilde.


1 thought on “The Resilience Project

  1. Pingback: Happy 3rd Birthday, Blog! | Kew Primary School Blog

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