Resilience has been identified as the ability to adapt or recover after a challenging or adverse experience. Children need resilience, as they are navigating a complex world with a rapidly flowing stream of information coming at them constantly and forcefully. Their brains are constantly assessing whether they are safe or not. This takes energy and is exhausting. We need to ensure that we monitor the impact of this constant bombardment on children who, similar to adults, make errors in judgment and decision making when they are fatigued.
At this point, we move into the subsequent questions:
- How do we develop our resilience muscles?
- How do we know if we have been successful?
Effective educators build resilience by teaching themselves and their students to self-assess their energy levels and personal wellbeing. They engage in the practice of mindfulness regarding their personal space and the need to re-energise and reset to a good baseline ready for any subsequent interaction. Amongst other programs, the Smiling Mind app, which is available for mobile devices, can be set to age-appropriate narrations and teaches children to complete a ‘body scan’ that determines how they are feeling and enables a whole body-mind reset.
Building resilience can help to reduce anxiety in young children
Specialists point out that anxiety and depression are increasingly evident in our young children and for this reason neurological pathways and self-regulation need to be mapped in the brains of children from the outset.
Building resilience enables children to overcome reactive everyday adversity (such as missing out on getting into a team or experiencing a friendship challenge), childhood adversity (such as emotional neglect or abuse), and adverse events (such as death or job failure). It also builds skills associated with being proactive in the face of possible adversity, which includes making a new friend, entering a new year level with a new teacher or commencing an unfamiliar task.
Children are not necessarily naturally resilient. They develop resilience over a lifetime and preferably in the context of the safe space of their school years, exercising in the ‘School Resilience Gymnasium’ to develop the resilience muscles in their growing minds.
For parents to assist their children in this routine, they need to limit their parental protective instinct so that their children come to believe they will be okay or safe in different challenging contexts.
The Moriah Resilience Gymnasium
Safety is very important for children to build resilience, move forward and feel secure. Children need to be able to identify a person that they trust, who will allow space to make errors, do the right thing by others, and give a sense of hope and care.
In a school context, this person can be a peer, or educator.
Our educators remind students to ‘scan’ the wellbeing of their bodies, monitor and reset themselves to a state of calm good health. This involves managing restorative justice discussions between adult and child, which locate the point of error, map a hopeful pathway forward and apply measured consequences should the context require such action. Through all of these interactions a trusting relationships exists, with supportive adults and peers who communicate the same message to the student; you are okay and the world is safe.
Partnering with parents to foster resilience
One of the crucial aspects of our ‘resilience gym’ routine is facing adversity. Concierge parenting sometimes involves parents clearing the pathway ahead so that no obstacles lie in the way of their child. This might be attempting to structure a future class list so that it suits their child or being on call 24/7 so that whatever the child forgets can be brought to the school without fail so that the day unfolds without inconvenience and little personal responsibility or disruption. It is, however, important that parents allow their children to face adversity as part of their life journey. Children are naturally explorers or scientists who experiment with different contexts, which could involve healthy suffering or a personal struggle. This natural part of life provides the opportunity to learn coping strategies to overcome challenges. Children develop confidence to cope with difficulty from their past experiences so that parents can reference this point of challenge by asking, “Where have you experienced this feeling before and what did you do about it?”
Parents build resilience in their children by nurturing secure adult-child attachment; they communicate that the world is a safe place, regulate the volatility and anxiety of their adult emotions and teach their children how their brains work. They help them to also gain a sense of time passing – “this might be hard now, but it will be over at a particular point on the calendar.”
Emotional literacy enables children to label what they are feeling. As adults, we are cautioned away from saying thing like, “toughen up”, “don’t be a cry baby” and “get on with it”. Rather, we need to help children find the words to express themselves and recognise feelings. At our ‘Resilience Gymnasium’, we ask children directly what emotion they are feeling. If they can’t find the feeling, emojis always come in handy. Furthermore, stories highlight contexts associated with the emotion to enable parallel discovery from a safe space looking at a parallel struggle.
Primary School Class Teachers and cohort for 2020
Two imminent events that are specific to Term 4 will provide an opportunity for our Primary School parents to step into the ‘Resilience Gym’ and train with their children. The notification of class teachers and class cohorts for the ensuing year frequently elicit parent concern and heightened anxiety. Moriah College has elected to share the 2020 teachers and classes well before the end of year in order for parents to support their children in two ways:
- The first is to reassure children that the world is a safe, good place and that their new teacher and student group are a good match for them. Concerns can be raised privately and independently with educators. Support and belief that our children can navigate their world successfully is critical.
- Secondly, the concepts of time and positive hopeful solutions to challenges identified during the transition day on 10 December should be managed purposefully and productively. Children need to understand that at any given moment in time, a problem might feel big to them, however, it will be solved and managed by a given point in the future. Use previous examples and experiences and encourage the child to name emotions and to drill down into responses. Furthermore, encourage your child to look at the attributes of others in the class and to assume an empathetic, compassionate approach to each member of the 2020 learning community in order to build trust, locate the strengths of others and navigate solutions to any disappointment.
The other thing that occurs in Term 4 is the anxiety surrounding reporting. It is critical that children connect with the success criteria surrounding their academic and social performance to identify where they are at, and where they are going to, with celebration, hope and an absence of perfectionism.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lynda Fisher is the Head of Primary School at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.