Resilience refers to the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress. Building resilience from an early age can help our children manage stress and feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. However, being resilient does not mean that children will not experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain, sadness, and anxiety are common when we have suffered major trauma or personal loss, or even when we hear of someone else’s loss or trauma.
Being a child can be difficult. Very little is in their control. They change neighbourhoods, start new schools and learn new information. They lose loved ones or favourite toys; make friends, get hurt by those friends and encounter bullies. Just like adults, children and young people are battling through their own challenges and setbacks throughout childhood. What helps a child overcome all these challenges is resilience.
By being resilient; a child faces a tough situation and is able to find a good solution or, alternatively, simply brush themselves off and move on with their day.
As with all matters of wellbeing taking time to focus on areas such as emotional intelligence and social confidence helps to build an outlook that feeds into the interactions a teacher has with the young people they support. Whilst we are preparing ourselves to help others we must also look after ourselves, we’ve got some advice and guidance on this in the teachers wellbeing section.
Ways to improve Resilience in the classroom
Resilience and preschool children
Very young children will only recently have mastered the skills of walking and talking, and they may not be able to express their anxieties and fears. Although you may think they are too young to understand what is happening, even very young children can absorb frightening events from the news or from conversations they overhear.
Watch for signs of fear and sadness that they may not be able to put into words
Have any pupils in your class become extra clingy or needing more hugs than usual?
Have your children started old habits after you thought they had outgrown the behaviour?
Are they suddenly more irritable?
They may be feeling the pressure of what is going on in the world around them. It can be helpful to use play to help children express their fears and encourage them to use art or pretend games to express what they may not be able to put into words.
Tips on increasing resilience in young children at school
Maintain a daily routine
Sticking to a routine can be comforting to children, especially younger children who crave structure in their lives. Work with children in your classroom to develop a routine, and highlight times that are for school work and play. Particularly during times of distress or transition, you might need to be flexible with some routines. At the same time, schedules and consistency are important to maintain.
Build feelings of competence and a sense of mastery.
Nurture that feeling in them – that one that reminds them they can do hard things. You’ll be doing this every time you acknowledge their strengths, the brave things they do, their effort when they do something difficult; and when you encourage them to make their own decisions. When they have a sense of mastery, they are less likely to be reactive to future stress and more likely to handle future challenges.
‘You’re a superstar when it comes to trying hard things. You’ve got what it takes. Keep going. You’ll get there.’
Optimism has been found to be one of the key characteristics of resilient people. The brain can be rewired to be more optimistic through the experiences it is exposed to. If you have a small human who tends to look at the glass as being half empty, show them a different view. This doesn’t mean invalidating how they feel. Acknowledge their view of the world, and introduce them to a different one.
‘It’s disappointing when it rains on a sports day isn’t it. Let’s make the most of this. What’s something we can do on a rainy day that we probably wouldn’t do if it was sunny?’ The idea is to focus on what is left, rather than what has been lost.
Let them know that it’s okay to ask for help.
Children will often have the idea that being brave is about dealing with things by themselves. Let them know that being brave and strong means knowing when to ask for help. If there is anything they can do themselves, guide them towards that, but resist carrying them there.
Build their executive functioning.
Strengthening their executive functioning will strengthen the prefrontal cortex. This will help them manage their own behaviour and feelings, and increase their capacity to develop coping strategies. Some powerful ways to build their executive functioning are:
modelling healthy social behaviour
providing opportunities for their own social connections;
creative play and board games
games that involve memory (e.g. the shopping game – ‘I went shopping and I bought a [puppy]’; the next person says, ‘I went shopping and I bought a [puppy and a bike for my t-rex]’– the winner is the last one standing who doesn’t forget something on the shopping list;
giving children opportunities to think and act independently (if they disagree with you and tell you why you’re wrong, there’s a plus side – their executive functioning is flourishing!)