Michael from Sharing A love of Teaching commented on my post about teasing yesterday. I wanted to expand on his thought that it is not a critical part of the teachers job to teach resilience, to which I agree. However his opening paragraph states that he thinks teaching resilience is overrated. From a teacher’s perspective, maybe. However from a societal perspective I think it is one of the most important things we can do for our children, for our future.
What is resilience?And why is it important?
“Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.”
A resilient child can be faced with many day to day stressor such as sibling rivalry, bullying, being pressured to perform at school or extracurricular activities. However, despite increased stress will manage to not only survive, but thrive.
Resiliency allows a child to overcome adversity, to be the winner in the battle against stress. Without resilience adversity wins and the child is left feeling sad and dejected.
How do we help children develop resilience? And who should ‘teach’ it?
I believe it is the role of all adults in a child’s life to help them develop and maintain resiliency. However, a firm foundation should have been set at home, starting at birth.
In order to help children develop resilience it’s important to look after our own mental health, but that is a topic for a future post. For now I will assume all parents are capable of helping their child(ren).
According to the Bernard Van Leer Foundation children need to be able to draw from three sources in order to be resilient. Those sources are “I Have, I Am, I Can”. The ‘I Have’s’ are people in the child’s life who love and support the child, who can help them in difficult situations. ‘I Am’s’ are traits the child possesses that increase a child’s feelings of self worth. ‘I Can’s’ are things the child can do to help lessen stress.
In order for a child to believe they ‘Have’ people in their lives who can help them, the foundation needs to be laid early in life. Actively playing with a small baby by giving massages, singing songs, reading stories lets the baby know he is worthwhile. Allowing a child to make mistakes without ridicule or punishment lets the child know she is worthwhile and provides opportunity to learn skills that foster resilience.
For specific suggestions on ways to help your child develop resilience from birth through the early school years take a look at the ‘Bounce Back Books’.
Here are some examples taken from “A guide to Promoting Resilience in Children” By the Bernard Van Leer Foundation
The baby is in the crib and is lying on his back screaming and kicking. You do not know what is wrong. He just keeps screaming and kicking.
You promote resilience if you pick him up and begin to soothe him while finding out if he is wet, too cold or too hot, needs patting on his back to remove air, or mainly needs comforting (I HAVE). You help him calm down if he feels loved and cared for (I AM), and if he can begin to calm himself down (I CAN).
You do not promote resilience if you look at him, decide to change his diaper, and then tell him to stop crying. If he does not stop crying, you walk away and let him `cry it out’. This interaction does not promote resilience as the baby needs more than a change of diapers. He needs to be held and comforted so that he knows he is loved and cared for. Then he can begin to calm down.
The two year old toddler is at the store with you. She sees some candy, grabs it and starts to eat it. When you try to take it away from her, she shouts, `No! Mine, mine!’
You promote resilience if you remove her from the situation so you do not disturb others, explain calmly to her that she cannot take things without your permission, and give her something else or show her something else to distract her. You help her understand limits of behavior (I HAVE), help her feel responsible for her own behavior (I AM), and communicate with her as she listens (I CAN).
You do not promote resilience if you just let her eat the candy or if you hit her and scold her or if you force her hand open to take it. This kind of interaction makes her afraid of the one who provides love and trust, makes her rigid in her behavior and makes her feel unloved and not understood.
Once a child leaves the home and enters school, I believe it is important for teachers to continue fostering resilience. However, my understanding is that teachers are not given the resources needed to know how to foster true resilience, but rather try to talk children into ignoring other children or stressful situations. Ignoring, or burying, their emotions doesn’t make those emotions go away, and it doesn’t help them develop skills to work through them.
If a strong support system is in place at home, and a child already has strong resilience I don’t believe it will make a huge difference if a teacher isn’t able to promote effective coping techniques. But if a child either has lower resilience or doesn’t have a support system outside of school, then it is more important that a teacher, or other adult, is able to help the child develop skills that will aid him in day to day life.
Growing Resilient Children states:
Damaging stress is like an alarm bell going off constantly in a child’s ears, telling him that there is danger, but never telling him what to do about it, nor giving him a chance to turn off the alarm.
Whether it’s parents, teachers, or another caring adult I believe one of the most important tasks is to help children learn how to turn off that alarm. Let them know they are loved and safe. Resilience is not overrated. Maybe misunderstood would be the better term.