Diamonds in the Gravel:
Resilience-Based Enquiry

This page is based on two assumptions:

  • That if you look for problems and risk-factors, you will surely find them! In fact you may well sink in them!
  • That if you look for examples of success, caring, enduring, overcoming, and kindness, you will find these too and have something to build on.

It can be argued that resilience-based questions in themselves, with the positive assumptions that underlie them, are inherently therapeutic. However, the supportive attitude of the teacher or helper over time, and the practical measures they can put in place are vitally important.

My thinking on this subject has been particularly inspired by the Minneapolis schools research, by the work of Michael Rutter in the U.K., and by Martha Straus' "No-Talk Therapy approach to working with young people whose trust in adults has been compromised by their experiences. Links to source materials are at the bottom of this page, and there are additional resources on resilience on the "Links" page.

Let's have a look at some questions that explore resilience and competence. Obviously the exact form of the question will be modified to fit the people and the situation. Think also about the impact of each question, what it might invite or open up, and what the equivalent problem-based question might sound like.

  • Who's your biggest fan?
  • Who can you rely on 100% to support you and speak up for you?
  • What would that person say they really liked about you?
  • What would they say you love to do?
  • What would they say you are good at?
  • What would you say you love to do/are good at?
  • Apart from that person, who else is rooting for you?
  • What's your most recent success?
  • What have you found difficult lately, but stuck at?
  • When was the last time you stood up for what was right?
  • When was the last time you helped someone? How?
  • What's your biggest dream? For your family? For your future?
  • What would you like to take up that you don't do now?
  • Compared with x months ago, what's getting better for you?
  • What did you do to help that along?
  • If you're feeling down or upset, what works best to help you get through?
  • Who might you talk to if you were down or had a serious worry? Who else?
  • When you think good thoughts about yourself, what are you saying?
  • What's the best thing you've made or done recently?
  • What are your best qualities as a friend?
  • If you're bored and feel like playing up, what do you do to prevent yourself acting out and getting into trouble?
  • Who are your heroes?
  • And, closer to home, who do you admire or respect, and why?
  • What's improving the most for you in school?
  • What is there about you that will make you a good parent in the future?
  • Tell me one thing you'd like to get better at in the next term/semester.
  • Who can you rely on to be fair and to support you? In school? In your neighbourhood?
  • Have you ever really messed up badly, then found a way to put things right again? How did you do that?

Which questions/enquiries work best for you? And which ones only dig you in deeper, and you are trying to get rid of them? Try some of these questions out. Let me know what you find, and any other ideas you have.

Specific resilience links, as promised!

Recognizing and enhancing Resiliency.
Fostering Resilience in Children Michael Rutter's ideas in practice.
Techniques for helping children recover.
Improving outcomes for vulnerable children (Action for Children Research Report)
No-Talk Therapy* (podcast) Martha Straus interviewed about her approach to her work.
*No-Talk Therapy is published by W.W.Norton, ISBN: 0-393-70286-3.

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