Resilience For Relocation

What is resilience?

The dictionary definition of resilience is:

the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

As anyone who has relocated can tell you, the relocation process has many difficulties. I don’t know anyone who has relocated without facing any type of difficulty. People on the move can expect to face large and small difficulties. It’s possible to anticipate some difficulties, whereas others catch people totally off guard.

Assumptions about children’s resilience

In my work with parents and with international school staff, it’s a fairly consistent assumption that children are naturally resilient. I’ve heard that children “just bounce back” from any problems and that the more they move, they more resilient they become. If only this was true! While some children are more resilient than others, resilience is not a fixed personality state which will endure no matter what happens. The more challenges we face, and the more difficult those challenges are, the more it takes a toll on our resilience.

The Problems Caused by Assuming Children are Resilient

If parents and teachers assume children are resilient, they may not be providing the opportunity for children to share how they really feel. For children who grow up internationally (often referred to as Third Culture Kids or TCKs), there is typically a very high level of mobility. Either friends move on or you move on yourself. Each one of these losses produces some level of grief. For TCKs, one big issue which persists into adulthood is the problem of unresolved grief. If children aren’t given the opportunity to share how they feel, this can be a cause of unresolved grief, which can cause huge issues later on.

Another challenge is if parents and teachers assume children are resilient, they are missing opportunities to teach children constructive strategies to build resilience. In a globally mobile upbringing, there are a number of challenges and difficulties specific to high levels of mobility. However, everyone can relate to experiencing challenges. They really can’t be avoided, so the emphasis is to teach children strategies to develop and maintain their resilience.

Article on resilience

In this article on resilience, which recaps research from Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, resilience seems to derive from four common factors:

  1. Supportive adult-child relationships;

  2. A sense of self-efficacy and perceived control;

  3. Opportunities to strengthen adaptive skills and self-regulatory capacities; and

  4. Mobilizing sources of faith, hope, and cultural traditions.

How this connects to building and maintaining resilience throughout relocation

As someone who focuses on supporting emotional wellbeing for relocation, my attention is drawn to point 3: opportunities to strengthen adaptive skills and self-regulatory capacities. Expat life presents plenty of these opportunities. The key in each opportunity is how to strengthen those skills and capacities.

How I can help

A key focus of my hello/goodbye programme for families and schools is to provide proactive strategies to promote emotional wellbeing. In many cases, the proactive strategies for emotional wellbeing also apply to building emotional resilience. If you’re interested in finding out more, I’d love to hear from you.