Achieving in Adversity
2 Jul 2018

Success in the face of adversity.

From moving house to watching parents’ divorce, students face all types of changes. Whether it’s big or small, they can turn adversity into success with tools and resources. When practised, it’s a skill that can guide them successfully through not just school but also life.

A lot of research has been done on the link between performance and adverse adolescent experiences. We’ve explored this topic too, through lengthy interviews with students. It’s clear that youth experience a range of adversities – from losing a parent, dealing with divorce and personal illness to suicidal thoughts, pregnancy, and simply partying too hard as a coping mechanism.

How to succeed against the odds.

It’s easier said than done. How did they do it?

It’s easy to think we’re ‘glass half full’ people until tragedy strikes. So, what sets resilient students apart?

Despite the adversity, certain qualities linked the resilient students. They displayed an ability to bounce back from the inevitable setbacks, obstacles and roadblocks. They showed characteristics including a positive mindset, looking for a lesson, and faith in the future. There’s a sense of empowerment, of taking control and looking at setbacks as an opportunity to build resilience.

What does resilience look like?

  • A goal for the future
  • An unwavering commitment to succeed
  • Positive and high expectations of themselves, with a no-excuse attitude
  • Continuous, daily effort
  • Obvious sense of responsibility
  • Support network, often self-created
  • High locus of control, self-empowered
  • A success mindset with a long-term focus – they take control of their own thoughts and see opportunities where others viewed obstacles.

The support network is everything.

Resilient students seek support both at home and school. They have at least one person who they can rely on. The essential ingredient to resilience is caring relationships with adults. Whether it’s a parent, teacher, counsellor or role model, these students had at least one person who they could turn to for advice throughout the challenging time. This made a big difference in their ability to not only cope but succeed.

Family plays an important role. Regardless of where that support comes from – a parent, uncle, sibling or grandparent – these students know their family loves them unconditionally. Creating a strong family unit helps to let the child know they belong and are part of something. This leads to a positive, meaningful attitude towards school.

Growth follows suffering.

Simply being there for your child can go a long way. Keep the lines of communication open, show an interest in all parts of their life and don’t try to control every situation. Let them learn for themselves. Provide order, structure and most importantly, stability. Especially for Year 12 students, as their world is changing fast.

Divorce, death, illness, troubled peers, bullies, peer pressure and identity shifts all impact on a student’s ability to perform. Encourage your child to invest in quality friendships, both in and out of school. Plan a family night once a week to create a space to talk about what’s going on in their life and instil that feeling of support. Celebrate the small wins (which we’ll be talking about next time).

It’s easy to remain optimistic in positive times but to experience ‘failure’ or loss and overcome it brings us closer to a state of self-realisation. Suffering can be our greatest teacher.