by Scott Herrington

Have you ever thought of your son or daughter as a dandelion? Or an orchid? I recently attended a captivating lecture sponsored by the Brockton School and presented by Sharon Selby, a Registered Clinical Counsellor from the ABLE Clinic in West Vancouver. Her opening remarks quoted a David Dobb article from The Atlantic:

Most of us have genes that make us as hardy as dandelions: able to take root and survive almost anywhere. A few of us, however, are more like the orchid: fragile and fickle, but capable of blooming spectacularly if given greenhouse care. So holds a provocative new theory of genetics, which asserts that the very genes that give us the most trouble as a species, causing behaviors that are self-destructive and antisocial, also underlie humankind’s phenomenal adaptability and evolutionary success. With a bad environment and poor parenting, orchid children can end up depressed, drug-addicted, or in jail—but with the right environment and good parenting, they can grow up to be society’s most creative, successful, and happy people.

As I sat in the Community Meeting room of the Lynn Valley Library, I was struck with the simplicity of the metaphor and the complexity of education in the twenty first century. As an educator for the past 30 years and a parent for the last 20, how could I be part of the solution?

Listening to Selby’s lecture was a step in the right direction. The lecture focused on the concept of “emotional resiliency” – an individual’s ability to bounce back emotionally, after experiencing distress. Rising suicide rates at universities, increased dropout rates, higher anxiety, eating disorders, alcohol abuse and self-harm among girls along with higher rates of oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder among boys all point to less resiliency today.

After catching our attention with the aforementioned realities, Selby cleverly shared another metaphor, this time about farming and how fertilizing is not the sole answer to a good crop. Farmers know all too well that they have to engage in crop rotation to be sustainable. If they over fertilize, the fields will be depleted and burn out. The same is true for children: if we spend too much on enrichment (extra sports practices, multiple private lessons, homework and every free minute schedule) our children will burn out.

Her audience, predominantly parents, was now baited and ready for answers. She continued with a suggestion that parents need to find a happy medium as a flexible “bamboo” parent – somewhere between the “rock’  and the “jello” parenting styles. Selby went on to focus on the question: What do we want for our kids? Her answer centered on the “Four ‘Rs’ of developing a higher “Resiliency Quotient” or “R. Q.”

The first R is being rooted. This revolves around the essential need to create a secure and close relationship with your child. Little things like finding activities that you both enjoy and doing them on a weekly basis, eating family meals together, taking vacations without bringing friends or other families, limiting screen time and having clear boundaries when it comes to digital device usage.

The second R focuses on being respected and being respectful.  Parents need to model the behaviour that they want to see in their children and they must work hard to validate their child’s feelings before they push their logic. They need to recognize that mistakes are an opportunity to learn and that we are all “perfectly imperfect”.

Selby’s presentation was peppered with quotes from numerous well known experts including Gordon Neufeld and Leonard Sax. On the topic of the third R, responsibility,  she focused on the need to teach virtues like honesty, self (impulse) control, humility, gratitude and conscientiousness through chores, thank you cards, tough summer jobs, volunteer work and positive role modeling.

Resiliency is the fourth R and she affirms the importance of a growth mindset and that a person’s thoughts create feelings and feelings create action. Being able to “push the pause button” and move from pessimism to optimism is so essential and parents need to create opportunities to stretch their child’s comfort zone and allow them to experience small successes.

With the conclusion of her presentation my mind wandered back to the dandelion-orchid metaphor and I realized that being an educator is very much part of the solution. The daily opportunity to engage with students and provide the “greenhouse” care, is very much part of the “IPS Way”.