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Raising Superheroes: How Tough Times Create Resilient Kids, by author Rebecca Behrens

Today we are very excited to host this great post about resilient kids by author Rebecca Behrens. 2020 is proving to be a difficult year for our kids and Behrens shares tips to get them involved, give them space, and help grow resilient kids to survive the challenge that is 2020 – and life in general.

“I told her to keep happy thoughts.” That’s how Leia Carrico kept her little sister, Caroline, calm during the first night they spent stranded in the Northern California wilderness. The girls, just five and eight years old at the time of their ordeal, had wandered off a deer trail while looking for a “sunny spot” in the woods near their home, and soon found themselves wandering in circles.

Once the girls realized they were hopelessly lost, they stopped to wait under the shelter of a bush they nicknamed their “huckleberry home.” The sisters stayed hydrated by licking rainwater droplets off of leaves, and they stayed positive by focusing on things they loved, those “happy thoughts” about their family and trips to the ocean. At night, Leia bravely kept watch for wild animals—like bears and mountain lions—while Caroline tried to rest. The girls kept yelling for help, even losing their voices—but not before searchers heard them and cut through bramble bushes for a dramatic rescue, after forty-four harrowing hours alone in the woods.

Stories like the amazing Carrico sisters’—and my own, far less dramatic childhood brushes with wildlife and severe weather—have helped inspire the fictional survival stories I write for young readers. In researching my books, I’ve uncovered many stories of kids whose daring and determination have helped them get through maritime mistakes, natural disasters, being stranded in the wilderness—not to mention times of serious emotional stress. I’ve also picked up a few tips for parents and families who want to encourage resourcefulness and resilience in their kids, both while out exploring the world and sheltered at home.

A little training does a lot of good Crucially, the Carrico sisters, once they recognized that they were lost, stayed in one place to better their chances of being found. They also knew the risks of dehydration and that fresh rainwater on leaves would be their safest bet for a drink. The girls’ survival knowledge—Leia had even learned how to safely start a fire to keep warm!—was thanks to wilderness training from a local 4-H club, family camping trips, and what they’d seen in the movies.

Some suggestions for training in your own family could include:

Consider signing your family up for outdoors or survival skills training if available from a group in your community—such as a scouts organization4-H, or the Red Cross.

Set aside some time to talk to your kids about how to stay safe outdoors or in an unexpected survival situation—such as getting stranded on the highway, or how to handle a major power outage at home.

Always be prepared Whether you are planning an epic backcountry trek or a ten-minute stroll in a state park, you should always go into nature prepared. Follow these tips to set out safely:

Make sure to always tell others where you are planning to be and when you expect to be back. (This advice goes for both adults and older teens hiking alone and families outdoors together.)

Weather conditions can change suddenly, so wear layers that can keep you comfortable when the temperature rises or drops.

Bring plenty of snacks and water—considering the weight of what you pack along is important, but in general it’s better to have more than you need than not enough.

This probably goes without saying, but a working cell phone to get help in an emergency is a must, whether you’re going near or far into nature. This past August, a Pennsylvania family was rescued from a Mount Washington trail in New Hampshire after they got disoriented on a daytime hike. Luckily, they had a cell phone and were able to call for help. Rescuers finally reached them in the dark, just before 11:00 p.m.—saving them from an overnight on the mountain, where temperatures were dropping fast. It was the third search-and-rescue call of the day—all of those hikers were fortunate they had charged phones (so watch how much juice you have left while taking selfies on the trail).

Safer at home: Natural disasters, extreme weather, and even now global pandemics are an unfortunate part of life. Even while you’re at home, these events can impact safety, security, and physical and mental health. The good news is, a little preparation in putting together an emergency kit can make these events a lot easier for your family to overcome.

Make sure your family’s kit is well-stocked—experts recommend a three-day supply of food and water, plus necessary medications, toiletries, and other supplies to stay safe and comfortable at home in extreme conditions.

A great tip is to pack coloring books, puzzles, and other non-electronic toys in your emergency kit, so you don’t have to use precious battery charge to stay occupied.

Look for lists of what to include at Ready.gov and your local Red Cross website. Make sure to consider what the most common natural disasters are in your area!

Did you have trouble finding toilet paper or tissues last March—or even your pantry staples? You don’t need to panic-buy and stock a closet full of Charmin, but it’s a good idea to set aside a little extra of your most-used household and grocery items so the next time there’s a blizzard—or a stay-at-home order—you don’t have to make a harried Target run.

The comfort of familiar or favorite things can also help kids cope when the world seems scary outside. As a child, I was terrified by summertime tornado warnings. But whenever we had to shelter from the storm, my mom let us grab some treats from the “deep freeze” freezer in the basement—like our supply of frozen Girl Scout cookies. Somehow, Thin Mints always made waiting out the storm a little easier.

Model resilience: While tough times—like the novel coronavirus pandemic, or after an earthquake, flood, or other natural disaster—put strain on all family members, they are also an opportunity to teach resilience. Dr. Sheila Modir, a pediatric psychologist in Orange County, suggests creating a “Family Coping Box” that is filled with items to help soothe when someone is feeling stressed. Perhaps most important is maintaining an open dialogue in your family about emotions in difficult times, to make sure kids are comfortable sharing their Big Feelings about the challenges and changes going on in their homes, schools, and communities. Need help getting started?

The American Library Association offers a variety of disaster resources online.

The book blog Pop! Goes the Reader has compiled a list of twenty-five recent survival titles to give middle-grade and young adult readers hope in tough times.

You can also ask your local librarian for an age-appropriate “overcoming adversity” booklist to read together as a family, then let the conversations flow.

Be the helpers: In an ongoing Vanderbilt University study, two thousand families across the United States are volunteering to collect their own COVID-19 swabs at home, which they then mail to researchers. The study hopes to gain information about how many kids get infected with the virus, and then how much they spread it to others they’re in close contact with—and the study’s results could help schools open safely in the future. For the families currently involved, it’s a way to contribute to science from home.

Eight-year-old Benna Schlub in New York City also found a way to help from home: She slipped notes under the doors of the elderly residents of her apartment building during the coronavirus outbreak this spring, offering to pick up their groceries and essentials so they didn’t need to put themselves at risk to shop in stores.

Kids have also found ways to contribute as budding inventors—ten-year-old Matthew Valerio in California invented a mask-and-T-shirt combo with snaps to encourage kids to always have a face mask handy. And the Ellis family in Ontario, Canada, created a “hug glove”—a plastic sheet with sleeves to allow the kids to hug Grandma without risking direct contact. Encouraging kids to creatively problem solve to find ways to help in the midst of a pandemic helps them stay connected to their communities while developing confidence—and building their STEM skills.

Some suggestions for your family to join “the helpers” now and in the future could include:

Using fabric remnants at home to sew face masks for your family’s use or to donate to healthcare workers.

Signing up to become disaster volunteers with an organization like the Red Cross.

Donating food, clothing, books, other supplies, or funds to national or local organizations responding after emergency situations. Coordinating a bake sale, a book drive, or a fundraising walk/run is a great way for kids and families to make a difference and connect with their communities in a meaningful way.

Kids are naturally resilient and resourceful—just look at the Carrico sisters’ story of survival. “They saved each other,” the girls’ mother told reporters, adding, “I raised superheroes.” Kids are capable of amazing, heroic things, and that includes their ability to cope and bounce back from whatever challenges nature, or life, throws their way. The opportunity to grow their resilience superpower can be a silver lining, in even the toughest times.

Rebecca Behrens is the author of the critically acclaimed middle-grade novels When Audrey Met AliceSummer of Lost and FoundThe Last Grand Adventure, and The Disaster Days, which is a Junior Library Guild selection, a Bank Street Best Children’s Book, and an ILA Teachers’ Choices selection. Look for her latest thrillingly realistic survival story, Alone in the Woods, in October 2020. You can visit her online, and view resources for parents and educators, at www.rebeccabehrens.com.

About ALONE IN THE WOODS

From the author of The Disaster Days comes a thrilling survival story about two former best friends who must work together to stay alive after getting lost in a remote national forest.

Jocelyn and Alex have always been best friends…until they aren’t. Jocelyn’s not sure what happened, but she hopes the annual joint-family vacation in the isolated north woods will be the perfect spot to rekindle their friendship.

But Alex still isn’t herself when they get to the cabin. And Jocelyn reaches a breaking point during a rafting trip that goes horribly wrong. When the girls’ tube tears it leaves them stranded and alone. And before they know it, the two are hopelessly lost.

Wearing swimsuits and water shoes and with only the contents of their wet backpack, the girls face threats from the elements. And as they spend days and nights lost in the wilderness, they’ll have to overcome their fractured friendship to make it out of the woods alive.

Praise for The Disaster Days:
“A realistic, engrossing survival story that’s perfect for aspiring babysitters and fans of John Macfarlane’s Stormstruck!, Sherry Shahan’s Ice Island, or Wesley King’s A World Below.”–School Library Journal
“The strength of this steadily paced novel that stretches over four days of a scary disaster scenario is that Hannah doesn’t figure everything out; she stumbles, doubts, and struggles throughout it all.”–The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“Fans of survival thrillers in the vein of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet will enjoy this tense, honest tale of bravery…an excellent (and refreshingly not didactic) teaching tool on natural-disaster preparedness.”–Booklist
“The relentless progression of a variety of disaster scenarios will keep readers turning pages…equally suspenseful and informative.”–School Library Connection
“Behrens uses immersive details and situations effectively viewed from Hannah’s perspective to create a suspenseful, vivid story filled with lessons about responsibility and overcoming adversity.”–Publishers Weekly 

From Sourcebooks Young Readers October 1, 2020 ISBN 9781492673378

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