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Building our Resilience

While learning to read, I discovered that I often flip the order of letters in a word and words in sentences. Later, I was told I have a learning disorder that made it more difficult for me to visually track words. Now it is only a minor inconvenience but to a five-year-old, it seemed like an insurmountable challenge. While I was struggling with reading, I was also building other resilient behaviors. I became the most verbose five-year-old you have ever met! School could have been really boring and frustrating but I always looked forward to each school day. I loved storytelling and chatting with everyone, even the teachers. I asked a million questions and listened intently. When my reading skills finally caught up with those of my peers, my communication skills helped me leap frog a few steps to quickly catch up and excel academically. I graduated with honors from a university ranked in the top 40 of the country, earned my master’s degree and later received a Fulbright grant.

While we all have different challenges in life, we all benefit from nurturing and reinforcing resilient behaviors in ourselves and others.  A resilient individual is one who is emotionally healthy and equipped to successfully confront challenges and bounce back from setbacks. Many children face additional systemic challenges, like poverty, racism, and family violence. One in four kids experience a potentially traumatizing adverse childhood experience before the age of 16. When her brain and body is in “fight, flight, or freeze” mode due to stress or trauma, a child is not prepared to learn and succeed in school.

I recently worked with a group of volunteers at Bellwood Elementary for a United Way volunteer program, Reading for Resilience. We read empowering stories from United Way’s reading list and helped the kids identify the characters’ resilient behaviors. Not only did the volunteers have fun, we built our own resilience because giving back to the community is a resilient behavior. You can learn more, build your own resilience and nurture the resilience of young students by joining United Way Young Leaders for Reading for Resilience on December 15, 2016.

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About the Author : Emily Watkins


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