I’m Tanya Meessmann and you’re listening to Episode 2 of the Raising Girl Shaped Flames podcast.
It’s my fundamental belief that every girl has a fire in her belly and confidence is the oxygen to those flames. If you’re the parent of a teenage girl who could do with a confidence injection, listen in as we deep dive into the relationship between confidence and the areas of your daughter’s life it directly impacts, such as happiness, resilience, communication, connection, and much more. I aim to leave you inspired by new ways to build your daughter’s self-belief and nurture her flame from a flicker into an inferno. All right. All right. Enough of the fire puns already. Let’s strike the match.
Hi, and welcome to episode 2 of our Raising Girl Shaped Flames podcast. Today we’re talking about the relationship between confidence and resilience and particularly how it pertains to teenage girls. We have a fantastic special guest, Michelle Mitchell, and during the chat that I had with her, we touch on the concept of resilience as ‘adaptability’ versus ‘bouncing back’. We talked about how confidence helps girls take small steps to increase their resilience and the important role that communication plays in maintaining connections with your daughter and building her resilience. Straight afterwards, Dr Diane Harner is taking us through the science behind resilience and what goes on in the teen girl brain as she’s developing both her resilience and her confidence in our ‘9 Minutes of Neuroscience’. So stick around for that!
I’m a big believer in learning through application and a key purpose behind this podcast and our Raising Girl Shaped Flames Facebook Group is providing ways for you to apply the knowledge that we’re sharing across both. So I’ve just put together a very brief resource that looks at five ways that your daughter can be building her resilience right now. So grab the link to download that in the show notes of the episode and while you’re there, don’t forget to sign up to our mailing list. You’ll get a reminder of new podcast episodes each week as well as more great confidence resources and information for both yourself and your daughter.
Interview with Michelle Mitchell (02:14):
So let’s get into our chat with Michelle Mitchell! There’s so much to love about this conversation and it follows on really nicely from last week’s episode, which gave a lot of real life examples of how I’ve applied the important learned resilience skill of ‘adaptability’. If you haven’t heard of Michelle Mitchell yet, I would strongly encourage you to seek her out ASAP.
She’s an award winning speaker and a bestselling parenting author. She’s been termed ‘the teenage expert’ by the media, so of course is one of our favourite people, and is sought out for her compassionate and grounded advice for parenting teens and tweens. She started her career as a teacher actually but soon discovered a special interest in wellbeing and she left teaching in 2000 and went on to found Youth Excel, which is a boutique health promotion company which delivered tailor-made high school programs and psychological services to thousands of young people and their families. She uses her experience to write and speak in schools, community events, and through the media and luckily to us. As the author of the book ‘Everyday Resilience’, she is the perfect guest for today’s topic.E
Welcome to Raising Girl Shaped Flames Michelle! Thank you so much.
Michelle Mitchell (03:23):
Thank you for having me, Tanya. This is just a bit of a pleasure to be the first person on your podcast!
Yes, you are! Well, I couldn’t think of anyone more perfect, both you and I stand for so much of the same things when it comes to believing in the importance of confidence and courage and resilience and young people and you particularly have had long and varied experience in the youth space. So I guess the most natural place to start today is I’d really like you to just tell our audience a little bit about your background, particularly your journey starting and building Youth Excel.
Michelle Mitchell (03:59):
I started my career as a school teacher and I lasted four years, that was it. Four years! Teachers work incredibly hard, but I started to realise I had more of a passion for the area of ‘wellbeing’ than I did for Maths or English. And so I really, after four years I decided to actually quit teaching and found a charity. And in the early days it just looked like mentoring girls and the newspaper did a few stories on my work. And then some mum’s called me and then I started doing small groups in schools. And then I started to really do a lot of work in alternative learning education as well. Look, across 20 years, you do a lot of different things. But in the end we had a psychology clinic, we had 12 staff there, we did onsite psychology in schools, life skills programs, and I was speaking in schools and it was just an incredible pleasure to, I guess, stand beside families in their challenging times and actually see kids get over this kind of little hump and build their confidence for life.
And you must have come across in those circumstances a number of examples of resilience at play. And that resilience is really a space that you’re very strong in. And so did you actually witnessed the necessity of resilience in order for these youth to go on and thrive?
Michelle Mitchell (05:16):
Yeah, and the beautiful part about that is standing beside a young person in itself gives them more resilience. It gives them more confidence. So the moment where I will to stand next to a person, when they’re going through those difficult days, they’re able to leverage off us and you see them blossom and develop and build their own strength for life. One day. Our kids are not only going to have to face challenges on their own, they’re actually going to be sheltering, possibly my grandchildren underneath their wings at exactly the same time. And so I guess my hope through my career has been that if I shelter someone else’s children, you know they’ll be able to pass on the love as they grow.
That’s such a powerful sentiment and I don’t think it is something we stop and think about often enough, it’s that pebble ripple effect, isn’t it in the pond where the lives that you can change now and the empowerment that you can serve now will go on to change lives and empower others, which is very powerful.
Michelle Mitchell (06:11):
Every time I look at a young girl, I think there’s a possibility she’s going to grow up one day and be a mum and that’s a powerful place of leadership, powerful space to be in and we want to, I guess, see them grow up as strong and confident as they can so they can pass that on.
Yep. I’m right there with you on that. And you know that is entirely what Girl Shaped Flames is about. So resilience in tweens and teens is very much your forte. Can you give us a bit more clarity on what we actually mean by resilience? The word gets thrown around so often at the moment, but we really need to understand what are we talking about when we’re talking about resilience.
Michelle Mitchell (06:49):
Okay. There is thousands of definitions of resilience and a lot of them, when I read them just through the lens of being a mum, all right, I look at them and they sound so idealistic. One of the most popular definitions is probably bouncing back from adversity or thriving in the face of adversity. But I know as a mum, like it’s very rare that my kids are thriving during times of challenge. In fact, thriving is not high on their list of priorities. If they know they’ve got an exam they don’t want to do, it’s very likely they’ve got the covers over their head. They’re not downstairs dressed, having found and put on their shoes and had a brain boosting breakfast. Do you know?
Michelle Mitchell (07:29):
And so we’re in this beautiful position to help our kids. So I guess the most beautiful definition of resilience that I’ve come across, it’s just that ability to adapt to life’s challenges. And it’s that adaptive process that we want to nurture in our goals. Life is gonna throw us a lot of curve balls. Sometimes it’s that our cheese toastie gets burnt or there’s no milk left in the fridge. And sometimes they’re bigger things like ongoing friendship dramas or really struggling with their work or a loss in the family, whatever it is, whatever the curve ball is, we want to help them face it and meet it with this adaptive ability to be resilient.
I really like the connection between adapting and resilience. I think you’re absolutely right. A lot of people do refer to the bounce back. But I think there’s an extra element of respecting the learning that comes through resilience. When you talk about adaptability, it means you’ve taken on the experience and you’ve learned from it and now you’re going to apply it again. Whereas the bouncing back can sometimes be misconstrued as not caring or not having the experience, not having had an effect on them. And so they’ve just bounced back to moved on.
Michelle Mitchell (08:40):
You bounce back as a different person and it’s not always a quick experience. And I think so often times that picture of bouncing back gives parents the impression that my kids should be just getting over this quickly. When they’re resilient, they’re just going to be able to bounce back. And it’s not like that. That bounce back is sometimes very slow and there’s a lot of growth that happens in that time.
Yes – and we have to make sure that our, our expectations are aligned with that. So now Girl Shaped Flames is all about confidence. We’re all about developing confidence, courage, and self belief in teenage girls. So really what I want to understand from you and your perspective on, is what do you believe is the relationship between confidence and resilience?
Michelle Mitchell (09:28):
And so every time young people have to adapt, they actually have to take risk. They have to try something new and try something different. And to do that, they have to have faith in themselves. And I think that’s what confidence is, that it’s trust in themselves. And when I watch young people sometimes they look like someone walking around with clothes 5 sizes too big for themselves or walking around with shoes that are three sizes too big and they’re still in that process of growing into themselves. That confidence allows us to take all those small steps that actually allow us to be and become the person that we’re designed to be.
Yeah, absolutely. And that’s a really interesting way of looking at it. So then out of interest, do you think that people need to be confident? Does it go hand in hand? Like a confident person is therefore resilient or resilient person is therefore confident.
Michelle Mitchell (10:23):
Are they mutually exclusive? Now in my book, I’ve explained it as the Traits of Resilience. So when I’ve looked across the classroom I’ve noticed young people who are resilient have very common traits and I’d say that confidence, and another way I’ve probably used it in the book is courage. That courage to be yourself is actually one of those traits of resilience that I see being exercised.
So is it possible for a girl in particular with that’s what we focus on, to be resilient without confidence. So can a girl who actually is not feeling confident in herself display resilience?
Michelle Mitchell (11:04):
That’s a really interesting question because resilience is so complex and there are so many traits that young people can draw on to enable them to adapt. I’m wondering if it is actually possible. Now, I don’t have a big theory on that, but I’m just, I’m wondering if it is possible for them to leverage other people’s confidence in a moment of, of challenge and actually be able to thrive and grow through that themselves because of that. So I think confidence would have to be there and safety. I don’t think it needs to be there like you know a hundred percent, before I see myself to be able to take that next step forward.
Absolutely. And I must admit, you know, I’ve witnessed girls that do suffer from a lot of self doubt and they are nervous to put themselves forward or into situations that might make them feel fear or discomfort and particularly through Camp Courage for example, that we’ve run a number of times now and you’ll, have girls that attend that. You can tell they don’t have a lot of internal confidence themselves but they’ll be put through the rainstorms and not getting a good night’s sleep. Not that I’m selling Camp Courage terribly well here! It is an amazing experience. But you know, they’ll be put through things where they are put into an environment where they know no one, they’ll have to go on a big hike in an unfamiliar place and you know, they make their way through it and they find a way to do it and in lots of cases enjoy it. And to me that’s showing a level of resilience that isn’t necessarily directly correlated to confidence but it is correlated to almost stamina and the ability to stay with something.
Michelle Mitchell (12:44):
That’s a really, I think that’s actually we’ve led ourselves to a really nice way of looking at that.
So I know that you are filled to the brim with amazing advice for parents about how they can help their daughters become resilient. And I am going to ask you for those, but before we get into that, I know there are also a lot of parents out there that are feeling concerned about: “What if my daughter doesn’t become resilient? What’s the bad thing that’s going to happen to her if she doesn’t build this resilience and how much pressure there is on us to build it? So what are any outcomes that we could be or should be concerned about if we don’t put some concerted effort into helping our daughters become resilient?
Michelle Mitchell (13:25):
I think the baseline with this is that we can trust as parents that our kid’s journey is going to teach them what they need to be taught. And I think whenever we come out of this space of fear, we do our worst work as a parent. That’s the thing that makes us come on stash. Yes, we look ahead and we want them to be able to adapt career wise. We want them to be able to move with relationships that are healthy or not healthy. You know, we foresee all these things in our kid’s life, but if we see each small nook in our kids’ lives right now as a learning curve, it’s actually going to set them up to be able to face those bigger challenges really well. And so one of the things we often trips ourselves up as parents is we look too far into the future instead of worrying about the next thing or that thing in front of our child or the life lesson in front of them right now.
Yeah, I think you are so right. And I think because we also have the benefit of hindsight for our own lives and we can look back on the last however many decades and we can kind of predict all these things that are going to happen to them or possibly going to happen to them. So you’re right, it’s, it’s so instinctive to try to map out their next 20 years for them and prepare them for the whole 20 years, instead of just taking it one step at a time.
Michelle Mitchell (14:44):
it’s this trusting instead of fixing that we have the opportunity to do as mums. Trust and lean into that feeling of trust – it enables us to let go of manipulating or try and control our kids life circumstances. And I find that when I see my kids going through difficult times, I feel really anxious. And anxiety produces energy and I have to move and channel that energy somewhere. So I say to myself, it’s time for me to lean into my responsibilities so I can let go of this. And sometimes as parents we have to give ourselves a job to do. We have to give ourselves a defined task. And our leaning into our responsibilities might be just keeping up the routine, making sure kids are fed healthy food, not, not transferring our anxiety on to them. So self care and taking care of ourselves. That helps a lot when we define our responsibility in it.
That is so spot on and, and you’re absolutely right. Sometimes we really need to give them the space so that we don’t accidentally transfer our own concerns on. I think another area that I’ve heard a lot of parents speak about with their own concerns is if their daughters don’t have resilience, and sometimes they say confidence, but they mean resilience. They’re worried that their daughters will never get out of their comfort zone and take some chances and try some new things, which is a concern to a degree. But ultimately we’re hoping that as parents they are just supporting their daughters with whichever interests that they show and and just being that support network that they need in order to feel safe enough to go and take those chances.
Michelle Mitchell (16:20):
And I think there’s a few things there. Let’s talk about how resilience is built in a minute and how they learn this stuff anyway cause that will help. But within that, I think you just kind of pointed to and alluded to the fact that it’s not a matter of kids being not resilient or resilient and I think that will be black and white thinking that sometimes we kind of get into the habit of doing as parents kind of boxes our kids into one category or the other. Whereas we need to think about it if they’re on the growth journey on the path of growing resilience and we can all grow more resilience and it’s setting them up with experiences and opportunities to grow that experience as well. That can really help.
Yeah. Amazing. Let’s get into what the parents can do. I think what’s going to fall out of this are some actual actions the girls can go off and do themselves as well. But I think let’s get into, as a parent wondering to themselves, my responsibility is to help my daughter grow in resilience and prepare for the world. What can they actually be doing?
Michelle Mitchell (17:25):
Okay, so let’s backtrack. And parents will ask me this: “So how do kids learn this stuff anyway, Michelle?” Why is it I’ve got one child who seems really resilient and others, you know, aren’t? So learning resilience is a really complex process and research actually suggests that mirroring is actually the main mechanism by which they it. So we’re looking at the traits of resilience being things like gratitude and empathy and courage and perseverance and contribution. But those things are best learned or transferred through observation, mimicking or copying. And so the environments that kids are around are very, very important when we’re thinking about, they could be adapting, adopting what they’re seeing in those environments. But this is the really interesting twist. By the very early age of 18 months, children begin to regulate what they imitate, which actually means they have a choice in what they imitate.
Michelle Mitchell (18:23):
So they’re able to start performing an action differently than the person that they’re viewing or copying off, which might be asked as their moms. Okay, so kids always have a big say in what and how they mirror. So a child’s genetic makeup comes into play here. Their desire and their reward system comes into play here. So when we’ve got two kids in exactly the same family exposed to the same things, it’s much more complex than just saying, drop a kid in the same environment and we’re going to produce the same results. What research also tells us though is that kids are more likely to copy, mimic, imitate those people that they feel connected with. And so this is the variable in our control: Our connection with our kids is could be the golden key to them learning resilience.
Wow. I can’t tell you how much I love hearing that because my other life is as a communication expert and parents get tired of me banging on them about how critical communication is in their relationship with their daughter. Because as we know, the teenage years, they’re neurologically programmed to pull away from their parents and to pull away from their environment that they’ve been brought up in so that they can go and figure themselves out. And parents get so concerned that they’ve lost this connection and they’re losing their daughters. And, and a lot of what we talk about with them is around maintaining that connection because through communication, because it is critical and paramount, and now I have even more reason to tell the parents because really we understand now that it is going to play a fundamental role in the development of their resilience as well.
Michelle Mitchell (20:04):
When our kids get those teenage years, it challenges our own resilience which can change as well. And we might be looking at our kids and going, you know, maybe I’m not connected to you anymore and it’s parent’s greatest fear, but it’s not that we’re not connecting with them anymore. It’s we have to change the way we’re connecting and that is gonna really help dissolve some of those fears.
Mm. And do you have some suggestions around how to change that way that they should connect with their daughters?
Michelle Mitchell (20:31):
Yeah, absolutely. Okay teenage kids are experiencing such big emotions. And what I actually find is that parents try to fight against those emotions instead of working with them. And so their kids might be showing signs of anxiety or anger or you know, intense disappointment. They might even say to their parents, I hate you. You know, and we as parents really need to interpret that or even turn the dial down on all of that a little bit so we can understand that that’s not actually really well what’s going on inside of them. We have to be able to work with that kind of exterior that we see that connects with what’s really in here. And I think what young people need and search for more than anything else is adults that are going to help to make meaning of their emotions and help them find their story.
Michelle Mitchell (21:23):
So during those teenage years where everything’s crazy and everything feels really intense, someone that will come into your space and help you on that growth journey and help you search for meaning is actually some helpful. So instead of, you know, like flicking off the light at 12 o’clock at night and saying it’s time for bed, that’s it. Maybe a better way to come at it, especially if you’ve got a child who’s experiencing anxiety would be the next day to say, Hey, why were you up really, really late last night? What was going on with that? And what are you learning about yourself? And it’s those questions of what are you learning about yourself that’s actually going to help bond to people with this new process of adaption.
Mm. And it’s cracking the door, isn’t it? And just going off the back of your door analogy, but it’s opening up that door of safety as well, so that they feel that they are safe to come to you and explain what’s going on.
Michelle Mitchell (22:19):
They have a cover and they have an insular story. And so oftentimes we’re relating to the cover of their life that actually cracking into what’s really going on inside of them. And the only way you can really do that is really validating, asking questions and being soft and close, close enough or low enough so we’re the person in their life they’re going to turn to when they have that moment where they really need to help make meaning of what’s going on.
Mm. Mm, absolutely. So we know the things that contribute to resilience are getting out of comfort zone, risk-taking, trying new things. So while I’ve had a number of parents speak to me in the past about “how do I do that exactly? How do I get my daughter to get out of her comfort zone and do something in a way that’s not going to be detrimental to their development?”
Michelle Mitchell (23:07):
Sometimes our expectations around this are that kids are going to make this big, giant, large leap, you know, and overcome it all in one hit. And we do have to be realistic about our expectations and even content with the fact that this is the journey that might come with a whole lot of small steps and it’s negotiating kids in that moment what their next small step actually is. So I had a dad the other night, I was talking to him about it is his son was an eight year old boy actually and he wanted to quit sports because he was feeling really anxious going to sports. There’s nothing unsafe there. That’s the thing. It was safe. But afterwards he was really happy and so he showing all the signs of really enjoying it. It’s really dreading that process of facing that sports game. So there was some anxiety and some fear on them, and I said to him, look, talk to your son and say, look, exercise is something that I can’t negotiate on as your parent because it’s really good for your body, but here are four options and you might come up with some more and I need you to choose one of these things. Likely he’s going to choose that sport because he’s actually really good at it and he really enjoys it. Yeah. But it’s not giving him an opt out when it could have had opted out because he was facing so much anxiety getting there. Sometimes we find all these little tricks as parents to get our kids over the line. It’s almost like they, they get to the fence and we want to help push them over the fence and sometimes we need to help that process along without taking full control.
Absolutely. And I think what’s so pointed about that approach that you suggested to the father is around the empowerment of the child in the situation and the decision making. Because I think that’s where a lot of those conversations fall over because there becomes instruction and demand as opposed to bringing them into the conversation. Knowing that as a parent, as you say, you’ve got little tricks to make sure that the outcome falls in the parents’ favor. But at the end of the day you are bringing them in and empowering them so that they feel like they’ve played a role in what’s going to happen next.
Michelle Mitchell (25:14):
And the reality is if they don’t want to, they won’t,. But we have to empower them. And boundaries and being like a guard rail in kids’ life is not at opposites of connecting, loving and giving them choices to work together beautifully. But it’s realizing it’s a bit of a double sided coin and we need to work both in the tiniest way.
So then what advice would you give to a teenage girl who recognises in herself that she finds it really hard to bounce back or adapt and she finds herself getting quite emotionally overwhelmed when things don’t go right or she experiences failure or something that’s outside of a comfort zone? What would you actually say to the girls that they could be trying to do?
Michelle Mitchell (26:02):
I think in our society we focus so much on external achievements, which puts a lot of pressure on the girls. So as parents it’s really easy to feel really proud of our kids when they get the certificate or learning the game. And I think young people judge themselves in that measure as well. And to be able to realise that big is always found in the top, that it’s the little decisions that she makes consistently every day that I want to celebrate that with her and I want to champion that with her because it’s those things that are going to accumulate. They still strengthen the girls and I don’t often think they see themselves with that lens. I think they’re very harsh on themselves and they don’t realise that every time they do make an effort: for some kids that hate school, getting up and putting their clothes on in the morning is actually building resilience. They don’t see it like that bit is fronting up to that exam, starting the conversation with someone they don’t know, you know, all those things that push them or feel like a little bit of a risk or actually in that moment they need to just be patting themselves on the back.
Yeah, absolutely. And as parents then just quietly observing these little small wins along the way and finding a way to subtly notice them or celebrate them would also be incredibly powerful as far as her development goes.
Michelle Mitchell (27:25):
I think so. And I think it’s drawing out, empowering, pulling them to their best self. I think it’s an amazing thing to be able to celebrate with them. Like I noticed this about you. They know, and it could be something so, so small, but recognising that, Hey, that’s got a merit and value and someone noticed.
Yeah, really powerful. We have had a question come in from a parent and they wanted to know what should they do if their daughter just fundamentally is not a resilient child. She just is not. And what can the parent be doing under those circumstances?
Michelle Mitchell (28:07):
Oh, embrace them. Love them for their starting point. Exactly the way they are. The first thing kids need to know is that they’re human beings like everyone else. And we’re all on this journey together and what they’re feeling, the depths of what they’re feeling is actually part of the human experience and they move through. So being able to validate those weak areas and actually wrap your arms around them and to the point where they really know that you get it,. But there’s a flip side in that. Then we want to help them take that next small step. We want to help them discover themselves and putting them in positions where they get to exercise the things that they’re really good at. It’s actually a great way for them to be at able to see their strengths. And this is really hard, harder for some kids than others, especially when they don’t identify something that brings them that kind of joy.
Michelle Mitchell (28:59):
But thinking as diversley as we can and giving them the more opportunities we can to experience our wide range of things until they find their thing. And I couldn’t care if that’s collecting Smurfs or studying math. I couldn’t care less what it is that actually can apply themselves to. And there’s an added layer of benefit in this too. And one of the best things we can do to build resilience is actually protect our kids. But the most protective layer that we can build around our kids’ lives is actually community. So the more things they’re actually involved in, the safer they feel cause their safety numbers. And we’re tribal and we’re meant to be supported by around us.
Yeah, absolutely. Well, this has been amazing. So what I’d like you to do is if you could finish us up with your number one message that you really like to get out to parents who are raising to be soon strong, confident teenage girls.
Michelle Mitchell (30:00):
Okay. I think it’s staying calm in the journey. Your girl has everything in her, in seed form possibly, that she needs to build the most amazing life that she’s going to be happy with. And if we can stay calm in the process, we’re not going to interfere with their growth journey as much. Just love them through it. Yeah. Support them through it and be there to guide them when you need to, but have a lot of faith in them.
I love every single thing you just said that is so aligned with what we believe here at Girl Shaped Flames. That’s incredible. Now we’ve got a wonderful, also generous offer from you. You have a great Everyday Resilience Video Series and you have a Journal that goes with that that can be bought separately or together. And so listeners today, I’m going to pop a code down in the show notes where you can save 10% off either of those items with RGSFPODCAST as the code. I’ll put in the show notes, it’s at Michelle’s website, Michellemitchell.org. But I would really encourage everyone to go and jump on Michelle’s Facebook page and Instagram because I don’t know about everyone else but I’ve been addicted to watching your lives and your stories because you just have really great valuable on the fly insights.
I love seeing you just sitting wherever you happen to be in that moment and jumping on and sharing an insight that you’ve come across from an interaction you’ve had with a parent or your own children. And I just think there’s so much great information there and value. So your Facebook page and Instagram are wonderful resources for our parents. So other than that, thank you so much. This has been an excellent, excellent chat. I feel so incredibly better informed about resilience and the girls and the parents. And I just know you will have answered so many questions that our parents have, so thank you.
Michelle Mitchell (31:49):
9 Minutes of Neuroscience with Dr Diane Harner (31:51)
Well, I hope you enjoyed that fantastic chat we just had with Michelle with some really great insights there that I’m sure we had many parents nodding along in emphatically to! But now we want to get into the science behind that discussion. And so we’re going to dive into our 9 Minutes of Neuroscience with Dr Diane Harner.
Hi Diane. Welcome back! We’re talking ‘Resilience’ today.
Dr Diane Harner (32:15):
Excellent. One of my favourite topics. Let’s do it.
Me too. All right, we are going to, as always, start the clock. So nine minutes on the clock starting now.!
Dr Diane Harner (32:27):
So the first thing that I want to do is talk about my definition of resilience. There’s a few different ones out there, but the way I look at resilience is how we adapt and recover in response to stresses. So in other words, resilience is about how well our brain handles stress. And the important thing to realise about resilience, it’s not one of those things that’s static, the resilience we have now is just a snapshot of what we’re capable of. And that is particularly relevant for our teenage brain, which is going through massive change and massive growth. It’s one of the critical periods of brain development. So the potential for teenagers to develop their resilience is massive because resilience is an adaptive process. And what that means is that we change our brain changes as we become resilient through the process that I talked about in the last podcast called neuroplasticity. So that is the process of our brain making new connections. And so what we know about resilience is that it is about the connections that exist between the amygdala, which is in the middle of our brain, which is where we detect all of our threat and the prefrontal cortex, which is that the front of the brain, which is the part of the brain that sort of manages all our emotions and sort of makes us feel better and helps us to problem solve our way out of situations. So when we want to build resilience, we need to build those pathways between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex.
Right! So how amazing that something is literally physically going on inside the brain to build resilience? It’s not just a concept. And so, are the ways that we’ve often spoken about how to build confidence and resilience, how those pathways get built, getting out of your comfort zone, taking risks or having failures and surviving failures is that, that’s physically building little connections in our brain?
Dr Diane Harner (34:39):
Yeah. So the thing about resilience is that you don’t develop resilience by staying safe. You don’t develop resilience by not putting yourself in stressful situations because it’s about how you respond when you are in stressful situations that determine whether you develop resilience or not. So if you’re in a stressful situation and you withdrawal or avoid or detach from the situation and you remove yourself from it and you don’t want to experience that stress, that does nothing to develop your resilience. And what it does actually is strengthen that pathway for that response. And what that can lead to is a ‘learned helplessness’.
So if the choice is made during a difficult moment to shut it out, ignore it, they’re more likely to come back and do that next time they are faced with a stress or a threat? They learn helplessness effectively.
Dr Diane Harner (35:38):
Mm Hmm. But conversely, if you’re in a stressful situation and you be present in it, you experience the stress and then you use active coping strategies to get yourself out of it the pathways that help you to get yourself out of it, will be in reinforced. And that is what resilience is.
So these active coping strategies seem relatively magical. How on earth do parents arm their daughters with active coping strategies?
Dr Diane Harner (36:14):
So the first thing that we have to do is we have to encourage them to lean into experiences where they’re stressed by protecting them from risk by protecting them from stress. It doesn’t serve them in terms of building their resilience. So in some ways, part of what resilience is, is developing a tolerance to distress.
I like that.
Dr Diane Harner (36:41):
And so to do that we have to do that old saying of doing something every day that scares us. And so as parents, the best thing that we can do is encourage our kids to do that. Now, if you’re starting from a position of quite low resilience, the first thing that you might do is actually be with your child and experience those stresses together. So an example might be, you know, singing karaoke together. It’s quite a stressful situation, but nothing bad is going to happen. But then the next step to build on that might be then encouraging your daughter to go into those stressful situations on her own.
So how stressful are we talking here? What level of stress do the girls need to be put under in order to ensure that they are going to be developing some sort of resilience out of the situation?
Dr Diane Harner (37:40):
So the idea is to put them into what’s called controllable stress. So it’s a stressful situation that has some risk attached to it, but is not going to be damaging in any way to either emotionally or physically. So, then what you do is you, arm your daughter with these active coping strategies.
Okay. What active coping strategies? What do we do?
Dr Diane Harner (38:06):
So one of the best ones that we can do is to encourage mindfulness when we’re in that stress. So that is about, noticing what’s going on in our body and not avoiding the feeling of the emotion. So that might include breathing through it and just reminding themselves that they’re okay. You know, that the emotion feels bad, but they are okay.
And finding that nice balance between not writing it off as less of an experience than it actually is.
Dr Diane Harner (38:42):
Yeah. And once your daughter can sit with the emotion, it’s about reframing the situation. So when we’re in the middle of stress, sometimes we can blow things out of proportion and get overwhelmed by the situation. But it’s actually sort of stepping a little bit into our logical brain and going, okay, what is this situation I’m in? What does this really mean for me? And then the third part is to then take decisive action. And this then brings in our problem solving abilities. What’s the next best thing I can do to get myself out of this stressful situation
That’s so good and so applicable right now. So the next time your daughter finds herself in this situation where she is experiencing a moment where there’s an opportunity to build her resilience or an opportunity to possibly continue down a learned helplessness angle, you can look at mindfulness, reframing, and taking decisive action. Diane, another amazing 9 Minutes of Neuroscience. Thank you so much. That was fantastic. We are going to see you again next week!
Dr Diane Harner (39:52):
Excellent. Thanks Tanya. Look forward to it.
Goodness, I don’t know about you guys, but those are my favourite nine minutes of every week that I’m getting to chat with Diane about all things neuroscience and the brain and so much really fascinating information in there.
Thank you again for listening to today’s episode. I hope you picked up some useful and applicable advice to help increase your daughter’s resilience and in turn her confidence.
Now, don’t forget to head over to the show notes and download The Five Ways Your Daughter Can Build Her Resilience Right Now.
And if you’d like to connect with a community of other parents discussing how to raise confident and self-assured girls, come and join our raising Raising Girl Shaped Flame Facebook group. We would love to have you there.
Next week we are diving into an incredibly important topic to all parents, the relationship between confidence and happiness with father of five and the previous Chief Operating Officer of QANTAS, no less, Mr Matt Lee. So to make sure you don’t miss out, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or wherever you get your podcasting goodness and sign up to that mailing list for a weekly reminder.
Until then, keep fanning her flames!
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