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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Caring Communities Foster Resilience

Oct 02, 2014 04:21AM ● By Susan Ahlstrom

Time and again, fresh displays of houseplants and flowerpots lure grocery shoppers with the prospect of bringing nature indoors. Moved by tender green leaves or the sweet, soft color of the African violet, houseplants are purchased with good intentions, their new owners eager to help them thrive. Life gets busy, however, and soon the new housemate is forgotten. It often becomes clear that helping the plant grow takes a commitment to regular watering and finding the perfect location with the proper amount of sun. It takes a certain amount of time and attention to sustain any living organism, no matter how small. 

Well-intentioned attempts to foster nature in the home are a cautionary tale when reflecting on the latest trend toward teaching resiliency in children. Programs that teach parents about what makes a resilient child seem to be the latest remedy for addressing the surge in diagnoses of depression and behavioral problems, alcohol and drug abuse in our youth. Presentations and workshops that focus on the qualities that fortify children to overcome hardship and validate the importance of building loving, trusting relationships are valuable, but lectures and lessons alone are not enough. In order to thrive, environment matters. 

When reinforcing the fundamentals of resiliency through programs that encourage healthy behaviors and positive parenting, it is important take into consideration how resilient behavior is supported in the greater community. Social and community environments clearly impact the success or failure of a child’s ability to bounce back in the face of adversity or keep their head high when disappointment strikes. Talking about resilience with parents without fortifying the community to uphold standards of behavior and the fundamentals of trust, love, and compassion in connecting with others, is like thinking one will have a green thumb just because they buy a new houseplant. The messages a child receives in the home to fortify resilience must be upheld by the greater community in order to be sustained.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that sustainability “is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.” This definition also applies to what one might call social sustainability. A program or town can secure funding for an initiative to teach character building or resiliency-focused parenting workshops. Can the community sustain it? Will the community commit to maintaining that project? The community culture must support the concepts inherent in the program, with wrap-around initiatives to fortify the message. Is a child supported when they are on the losing team or don’t make the honor roll? How does it feel for the student who has to face rejection from the college of their choice or one who doesn’t make the varsity team? Do the parents, friends, teachers and neighbors around the child positively, or proactively, support their experience? Learning resilience requires a caring community. Sustaining a culture of healthy, resilient youth requires a commitment to developing and maintaining an environment of support around adversity.

Nature is the ultimate teacher of resilience and sustainability. We have all seen the miracle of a sapling making its way through a crack in the mighty walls of Yosemite, or the return of the brilliantly colored crocus at the end of a long, dreary winter. When the proper balance of the elements exists, even to the smallest degree, growth is a by-product.  When interpersonal relationships are positive and respectful, supportive and caring in the home and in the community at large, resiliency and health are the result. More importantly, when a community is caring and connected, these outcomes are sustainable.

Susan Ahlstrom is a member of the Ridgefield Prevention Council and the executive director of the Ridgefield Chamber of Commerce, sponsors of the upcoming expo, Destination Wellness; A Celebration of Healthy Living. Held on October 25, the expo will take place at the Ridgefield Parks & Recreation Center located at 195 Danbury Rd, Ridgefield. For more information, visit RidgefieldChamber.org/Events.