Resilience has been much talked about over the last few months and, specifically, how building resilience in our children can strengthen their mental health and sense of wellbeing and enable them to thrive. Of course, resilience is one of our core school values here at Craigclowan and is something that we consciously seek to build and encourage. And it’s not always a simple message, indeed, it is filled with nuance.
On Tuesday, in assembly, I spoke with the school about New Year Resolutions and we explored how resilient people won’t give up when they get something wrong but will get up, dust themselves off and have another go. We will be practising that this term and I hope that you might also play your part in encouraging it at home? To help, you might like to read the following which details some approaches which have been shown to help develop resilience in young people.
Resilience requires access to relationships, not determined independence. It’s not self-reliance, inner strength or determination that leads children through the tricky times, but the reliable presence of other supportive relationships. These can be friends at school, teachers, parents or family friends.
Increase their awareness of the people who care about them. Children won’t always notice when people are in their corner cheering them on so, when you can, remind them who is in their fan club.
Let them know that it’s okay to ask for help. Encourage them to understand that being brave and strong means having a go yourself, but also knowing when to ask for help.
Try, ‘how’, not ‘why’. When they make mistakes, don’t ask why it went wrong, instead, try asking how they can put it right or how they can do it better/improve next time.
Build their executive functioning. You can do this by creating opportunities for them to practise making decisions (this can be in board games, planning family journeys or even deciding what to wear for a walk or when to do their prep)!
Encourage a regular mindfulness practice. By becoming self reflective we can learn to view life in its proper perspective.
Let them know that you trust their capacity to cope. Fear of failure isn’t so much about the failure but more to do with the fear that they (or you) won’t be able to cope with the failure...encourage them to believe that it is absolutely fine to fail. This will help them to cope.
Exercise. Exercise strengthens and reorganises the brain to make it more resilient to stress. It also give opportunities to work in teams and towards common goals.
Build feelings of competence and a sense of skillfulness and mastery. In other words, nurture that feeling in them that they can do hard, complex things well.
Nurture optimism. Optimism has been found to be one of the key characteristics of resilient people. Encourage them to view the glass as half full, not half empty.
Facing fear – but with support. Facing fear is so empowering but to do this they need the right support, as we all do. Encourage them to think about who provides their safety net...sometimes just knowing that it is there helps.
Encourage them to take safe, considered risks. Let them know that the courage they show in doing something brave and difficult is more important than the outcome (within the limits of self-preservation of course...staying alive is also important)!
Don’t rush to their rescue. It is in the space between falling down and standing back up again that they learn how to find their feet. If you intervene at this point, the opportunity to learn and grow from the experience will have been lost.
Meet them where they are. Resilience isn’t about never falling down. It’s about getting back up again, and there’s no hurry for this to happen. Unhappy events in our lives can make us want to withdraw for a little while and it is during this withdrawal that information is reflected upon, processed and assimilated so that balance is found again. Give them the time and space to do this.
Nurture a growth mindset. We can all change, and so can other people. Research has found that children who have a growth mindset – the belief that people have the potential to change – are more likely to show resilience when things get tough.
Build their problem-solving toolbox. Self-talk is such an important part of problem-solving. You can model this and give them a foundation on which to build their own self-talk.
Make time for creativity and play. Problem-solving is a creative process. Anything that strengthens their creative abilities will nurture their resilience by developing their problem-solving abilities. Try nature art, family music making, dancing like no one's watching, scrapheap challenges and making dens.
Let them talk. Try to resist solving their problems for them (it’s tempting, I know!). Instead, be the sounding board as they explore their own thoughts and feelings. As they are doing this, their mind is processing the problem and becoming stronger as a result.
Get up and get on…
John F Gilmour