Resilience is a personality trait that is commonly referred to as the ability to “bounce back” in the face of adversity and has become an important component in the theory of wellbeing.
Resilience can be a tricky concept to explain as it is actually several things interacting together at any given time. Resilience can be split up into a young person’s personal resilience characteristic of their personality, their environment – including support structures and negative influences - that they inhabit, and how all of these things interact at any given time when a young person is faced with an adverse situation or adversity. In this sense we can see the limitations of the “bounce back-ability” definition as some children may not simply be facing one adverse situation but longstanding adversity such as poverty or discrimination.
Resilience therefore is contextual; a child that is resilient to adversity in one area may not be resilient in another; in a similar fashion a child that is usually resilient in a particular area, may struggle to be as resilient as they might have usually been, due to certain circumstances in their environment.
We cannot always control what occurs in a young person’s family, community or social group however we can try and influence and support how a young person copes with adversity. We can start to do this by understanding what the “characteristics” are of personal resilience, i.e. what interpersonal skills a young person already might have and ones they can improve that increase the likelihood of them being more resilient to a wider range of adverse situations. The most researched theory of personal resilience focuses on 3 core mechanisms;
Sense of Mastery
A sense of mastery is a young person’s self-perception of competence or self-efficacy. A young person who believes themselves to be competent in situations increases their opportunity to interact and importantly enjoy these interactions with their environment. In turn this increases self-efficacy and a sense that challenges can be surmounted.
Sense of Relatedness
A sense of relatedness is a young person’s self-perception of their ability to engage in positive relationships. This is believed to be influenced by a young person’s early experience of attachmentwith their primary care giver. A good sense of relatedness means a young person is more likely to seek help with adversity and be able to access the many benefits of positive interactions with others.
The speed and intensity of a young person’s negative emotional response. This in essence is about a young person’s ability to emotionally regulate. A young person that is adept at managing their own emotions is able to persevere longer in the face of adversity.
Why is resilience so important for healthy functioning and early intervention?
Adversity is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, it allows young people to challenge themselves, learn and develop the coping skills needed for healthy adult lives. In order for adversity to be helpful we need the interpersonal resources to navigate through it and integrate, in a positive way, what we have learned from such experiences.
It is however idealistic to apply this to all adversity, some adversity is of a severity and/or duration (for example a sudden bereavement or a history of abuse) that it becomes virtually impossible to navigate, becoming traumatic and disruptive to wellbeing. Still with time and support young people that have had extremely negative experience can build resilience and forge out positives going forward.
One of the great risks of not building resilience is the tendency for young people to avoid any adverse situations in fear of not being able to cope. This has the damaging effect of removing the opportunity to develop the emotional and social skills that contribute towards establishing the resilience required for healthy functioning.
We learn resilience through our environment, therefore, in part our environment shapes our personal capacity for resilience. A common measure of adverse situations that a young person may have experienced or continues to experience in their environment are what are known as ACEs or adverse childhood experiences. As mentioned, it is how a young person interacts with their environments, especially in regard to the relationships that inform their personal resilience.
What can teachers do to improve, assist and support resilience of the young people they support?
As with all matters of wellbeing taking time to focus on areas such as resilience 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 teacher wellbeingsection.
A core component of resilience is emotional regulation. Getting young people thinking about what emotions are and how they change can be a useful exercise. This can be done by creating an emotional planner. Ask your class to draw out on a simple chart how their emotions changed throughout the day before. Talk to the class about how it is normal for our emotions to change over the day as we experience different stresses – it’s how our bodies work, and are designed to deal with changing demands. Ask young people what can they think of that might help in difficult times and write these down. Then get them to work as a class to help an example of a young person, that is having a particularly difficult day, get through using the solutions they have just created. You can download the My Emotions graph from our resources section.