The world our students are growing up in offers many opportunities for celebrations, growth, and stress. As educators, it is no longer enough to only teach the three R’s: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. We need to add one more R: Resilience.
re·sil·ience – /rəˈzilyəns/ – noun – the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness
Karen Young, in her article, “Building Resilience in Children: 20 Practical, Powerful Strategies,” states, “During times of stress or adversity, the body goes through a number of changes designed to make us faster, stronger, more alert, more capable versions of ourselves. Our heart rate increases, blood pressure goes up, and adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone) surge through the body. In the short-term, this is brilliant, but the changes were only ever mean to be for the short-term.”
We often see different responses to stress and adversity by our students, as well as different ways of recovering from stressful times. We observe different ways of showing when the demands they are facing outweigh their capacity to cope. Students might become emotional, defiant, or withdrawn. Even the strongest of students will have days when it becomes too much. A little bit of stress is beneficial and helps to develop skills needed to flourish. It is when this stress starts to affect daily quality of life that we need to step in and help where we can. We need to add that fourth R, Resilience, to give them every opportunity to succeed. Here are five of the ways to purposefully strengthen resiliency in our students:
- Resilience needs relationships – Students need the reliable presence of at least one supportive relationship, whether it is another student, adult in school, or family member.
- Frequent exposure to people who care about them – when someone feels genuinely cared about, it can lead to higher positive emotions, a sense of control and predictability, improved self-esteem, motivation, and optimism
- Let them know that it’s okay to ask for help – Children often have the idea that being brave means dealing with things by themselves. Courage is knowing when to ask for help.
- Encourage regular mindfulness. Mindfulness creates structural and functional changes in the brain that support a healthy response to stress. It strengthens the ability to quickly become calm. Many resources are available at no cost online that teach mindfulness.
- Build their executive functioning – Strengthening their executive functioning will help them manage their own behavior and feelings, and increase their capacity to develop coping strategies. Some powerful ways to build their executive functioning are:
- establishing routines
- modelling healthy social behavior
- creating and maintaining supportive reliable relationships
- board games (good for impulse control, planning, working memory, and mental flexibility)
- providing opportunities to make their own decisions
- giving them opportunities to think and act independently (disagreeing with you and telling you why you’re wrong, has a plus side – their executive functioning is flourishing!)
- games that involve memory (e.g. the shopping game – ‘I went shopping and I bought a banana’; the next person says, ‘I went shopping and I bought a banana and a magazine’; next person … ‘I went shopping and I bought a banana, a magazine, and AAA batteries, etc.’)
There are things in our lives of which we have no control but building and strengthening resilience will provide our students with the tools to manage challenges and difficult times today and into their future. One more R: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Resilience!